Jason Isbell + the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell walked on stage Friday night at the Windjammer, looked out at the packed house and said, “It’s great to see y’all. We’re very, very happy to be on Isle of Palms playing rock ’n’ roll music for you good people,” before breaking into the fat guitar lick of his new rocker, “Go it Alone.”
With Browan Lollar on guitar, Jimbo Hart on bass, Derry DeBorja on keys and accordion, and Chad Gamble on drums, the 400 Unit were one with Isbell’s great lyrics and upbeat attitude, melding together effortlessly. Isbell announced another new one, “Alabama Pines,” off their new record, Here We Rest. He was visibly surprised by the huge response. “Cheers for the new shit, I like that,” he smiled.
By the end of the second song, the crowd was all in, and the opening bars of the in-your-face rocker “Try,” from 2007’s Sirens of the Ditch, brought stomps and hollers. DeBorja slinked around his keyboard with a smile. His motions mimicked the notes he was hitting, almost acting out the song.
“At this point in the show I usually ask if people are havin’ a good time,” Isbell said. “But I don’t even have to ask y’all.” “Goddamn Lonely Love,” an old ballad from his days in the Drive-By Truckers, rounded out perhaps the best four opening tracks they could’ve played. The band built the audience up with rock, and then made them sway to an old favorite.
After keeping the swaying going with the ballads, “The Magician,” “Decoration Day,” and “Cigarettes and Wine,” Isbell said, “Forgive me for the sad ones. Now Chad’s going to sing for you. But he don’t sing no sad shit. He’ll sing some awesome happy-time music.”
The drummer proceeded to kill it with the two-step beats and vocals on the old New Orleans favorite “Hey Pocky-Way,” with every other bandmate backing up on the chorus. The guys took obvious delight in the peppiness of the song, making for a unique and energetic moment of band-bonding.
Isbell and the 400 Unit straddled the rocking-vs.-swaying line masterfully throughout the night, even plugging in a great new cover of the Stones’ “Sway,” which is, of course, a rocker. Covers ruled the second half of the show, from Browan Lollar’s now-well-known “Psycho Killer” to a mini-version of Hendrix’s “Stone Free” in the middle of Isbell’s badass classic “Never Gonna Change,” which finished off the set.
For the encore, Isbell returned to sing Todd Snider’s gorgeous “Play a Train Song” as the crowd hung on every word. “Soldiers Get Strange” and “Dress Blues” made sure that the sweat-covered, almost-sober-again crowd was left swaying reflectively as the band took their final bows.