Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's Return to Northeast Ohio Was Worth the Wait

click to enlarge Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - VINCE GRZEGOREK
Vince Grzegorek
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

It had been long enough since Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit had come to town that fans had not one but two new albums of material to look forward to hearing.

The Reunions tour swung through the Akron Civic Theatre last night, where Isbell and crew mixed in seven songs from the May 2020 release and one from this fall's charity cover album, Georgia Blue ("Honeysuckle Blue" by Drivin' N Cryin', with original Drivin' N Crying' member and 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden leading on vocals).

Isbell, who debuted Reunions live with a virtual stream from Brooklyn Bowl Nashville last year, was as excited as anyone to be there. Remarking generally about how nice it was to play for fans again, Isbell also specifically mentioned how nice it was to play at the gorgeous Akron Civic Theatre.

"I'm just so excited to play this room," he said early in the show, which kicked off with "What've I Done to Help" from Reunions and featured selections dating clear back through his catalog.

Isbell's only 42 years old, which feels young for a guy who's been crafting songs for what feels like just as long instead of only half of it. That remarkable twenty-year run from when he joined the Drive-By Truckers through his early solo work through his albums with the 400 Unit has been prodigious and acclaimed, filled with enough songs to make two greatest hits albums. Which makes paring everything down to one show tough, especially when all seven songs pulled from the latest album ("St. Peter's Autograph," for instance) absolutely belongside fan favorites from decades past (like "Alabama Pines.")

They've been mixing up the setlists on this tour, dropping in a DBT song or two (Akron got "Goddamn Lonely Love"), other Georgia Blue covers, and swapping out some deep cuts for others.

Last night it meant a mix of brawny Southern, guitar-driven rock like "Be Afraid," "It Gets Easier," and "Hope the High Road," more delicate songs such as "24 Frames" that had Isbell and the 400 Unit exploring some extended mid-song jams, and masterclass show-stopping ballads like "Elephant," "Cover Me Up," and "If We Were Vampires" (which worked well despite the absence of Amanda Shires, whose new Christmas album everyone should also check out).

Inevitable requests came shouted from the audience between songs — a "Flying Over Water" here, a "Codeine" there —  but only one person got their request honored: Isbell's 7-year-old daughter, who was in attendance backstage and wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well."

"Of course she picked a cover," Isbell joked.

Setlist:

What've I Done to Help
Hope the High Road
Dreamsicle
It Gets Easier
Something More Than Free
Oh Well
Alabama Pines
Elephant
Honeysuckle Blue
If We Were Vampires
Be Afraid
Goddamn Lonely Love
Last of My Kind
Overseas
Only Children
24 Frames
Cover Me Up

Encore:
St. Peter's Autograph
Super 8
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