Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit Put Their Musical Maturity on Display at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica


  • Scott Sandberg
For their last studio effort, 2017’s The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit recorded at RCA Studio A, and for the first time since 2011's Here We Rest, Isbell's backing band, the 400 Unit, receives co-billing on the album.

It’s suggestive of the way in which the 400 Unit has played a bigger role in developing Isbell’s Southern rock/alt-country sound. Last night during a 90-minute set at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, Isbell and his bandmates put on a stellar show that showed just how much they’ve matured.

You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here.

The concert commenced with “Hope the High Road,” a mid-tempo tune that Isbell, who wore tight black jeans and a tight-fitting black short-sleeved shirt, punctuated with a searing mid-song guitar solo. Some slide guitar brought out the twang of “24 Frames,” and the band cranked up the guitars for “Anxiety,” a song that benefited from blinding strobes.

“Codeine” came off like it was one of Skynyrd’s best ballads, and Isbell capably snarled his way through “White Man’s World,” an indictment of the prejudice and racism that exists in the South (and throughout the States).

Isbell and Co. delivered "Decoration Day," the 19-song set’s centerpiece, as the majestic Southern rock anthem that it is. Isbell’s quivering vocals gave the track, a tune he wrote during his tenure with Drive-By Truckers, a real edge.

With its driving guitars and harmony vocals, “Cumberland Gap,” another highlight, felt like it could’ve been a R.E.M. number from the mid-’90s, and the set’s final number, “Never Gonna Change,” found Isbell capably returning to the Drive-By Truckers’ catalog. The audience, which filled about two-thirds of the venue, greeted the track with exuberant hoots and hollers.

The two-song encore received a standing ovation and showed just how far Isbell, who at one point in the show reminisced about playing the Beachland (he and the Truckers once delivered a particularly sloppy set at the club’s tiny tavern), has come. The four-piece 400 Unit capably brought the songs to life, adding accordion, keyboards and slide guitar to create rich sonic tapestries that showed a respect for American roots rock.

Wire-thin singer-guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan opened the show with a high-energy set that showed off his sharp songwriting skills. Old-school organ riffs often filtered into his songs, and Tasjan, who grew up in New Albany, Ohio and had just come off the road from a tour with Social Distortion, said he particularly enjoyed playing to an audience that was a "lot less angry" than the Social D crowd.  

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