What better way to spend a beautiful sunny Sunday evening than relaxing with a beer in your hand at a Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit show.
After 18-months of live music venues being closed and musicians off the road, Jason Isbell is taking a stand to make sure the current tours can keep going and giving us all the chance to experience and enjoy live music once again. Isbell has literally put his money where his mouth is by canceling any of his shows where the venues refuse to check people’s vaccination status or negative Covid test results. Luckily, Wintrust Field is one of the many venues that are fully on board with this process, ensuring that we get to see the concerts we have missed so much and the tours can keep going.
All too often, Sunday nights are taken up with worrying thoughts about the work week that lies ahead. But not this one. The sun was shining and everyone was relaxed and excited for the show ahead. People brought their camp chairs and made themselves comfortable, with a beer in hand as Brittney Spencer took to the stage to kick the evening off in style. Spencer had performed a cover of a Highwomen’s song which caught the attention of Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell and so was invited to open for Isbell on many of his upcoming tour dates. You know if Jason Isbell has chosen someone to open for him that’ll you’ll be in for a real treat and that certainly proved to be the case here. Brittney’s set showcased both her songwriting and her spectacular voice. Bobby Wesley provided fantastic accompaniment on guitar but the way the music filled the open-air venue truly belied the fact that there were only two musicians on the stage. If you’re attending any of these shows, do yourself a favor and get there early to catch her set. You will not be disappointed.As the sun began to set behind Wintrust Field, it was time for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit to take to the stage. We’ve caught Jason Isbell’s shows several times over the years, and there was definitely something special about this one. There was an extremely relaxed feeling amongst the audience all evening. It was genuinely like sitting with hundreds of your closest friends. It might actually have been the friendliest crowd we have ever come across at a show. Everyone was there to have a good time and were so happy to get to enjoy live music once again and it felt like the band felt exactly the same. Jason, in particular, looked extremely happy to be performing at such a great venue on a perfect summer evening and was smiling and enjoying himself throughout.
They opened with “It Gets Easier” before quickly checking “Super 8” off the list so his daughter could hear her favorite song before going to bed. As this is the first tour since the release of Reunions last year, it’s not surprising that the setlist was very heavy on tracks from the new album including to name a few “Overseas” which opens with Jason’s fantastic Knopfler-esque guitar work, “Letting you Go” (another Mercy favorite – and one in which she features), “Dreamsicle” and “Only Children.” There were also a number of favorites included including “Alabama Pines” and “If We Were Vampires” which garnered a particularly loud cheer from the crowd as the opening notes rang out across the field. If ever there was a song made for live shows it’s “Cover Me Up,” particularly the way that the band approaches it. The stripped-back opening to the song putting Jason’s voice front and center, the lyrics drawing you in before it builds and builds, with Chad Gamble’s booming drums beating in your chest as the song nears its close. It’s one of those songs that leaves you feeling like you need to take a moment to collect yourself and have a little breather before the next song.
You weren’t, however, given any chance of a breather as the band launched straight into a rambunctious rendition of “Never Gonna Change” which saw Isbell and Sadler Vaden trading licks, which is always a sight and sound to behold. Luckily, after this one, the crowd were given a chance to collect themselves as the band left the stage briefly before rounding out the night with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sway.”
It was great to hear the Reunions tracks live and they fit into the night’s setlist perfectly. Indeed, Isbell did comment on how apt the title of that album proved to be for this tour given the events subsequent to its release. The crowd has clearly had time to appreciate the album which was clear from the reaction to the new songs and the fact that people were singing along throughout the entire setlist – not just with the old favorites/staples.
The tour continues on and also includes the welcome return of Isbell’s own festival, Shoals Fest, which this year has been extended to a two-day affair and, based on both our experience of the inaugural event and this year’s line-up, should prove to be a great one.JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT
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