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Concert review: Jason Isbell at Red Butte Garden

by on June 18, 2014


Jason Isbell has come through Utah probably a dozen times to play shows large and small, at venues ranging from Salt Lake City’s downtown library amphitheater during the Utah Arts Festival to a free gig at Park City’s Newpark amphitheater to several stellar gigs at the State Room.

It’s safe to say his first stop at Red Butte Garden with his band the 400 Unit will stick out in his memory, and not just because it was another in a long line of excellent Utah performances. Near-freezing temperatures and a crowd dressed to weather a day full of rain–including a shower through opening act The Lone Bellow–combined to make Tuesday night a colorful, and muddy, night out.

Thankfully, the clouds parted right as Isbell hit the stage at 8:30, bringing blue skies and the driest part of the day to Isbell’s set, and the band didn’t let the cold slow them down at all–save for some extra between-song tuning of instruments.

Isbell started with a couple of songs from his excellent 2013 release Southeastern, and both “Flying Over Water” and “Stockholm” sounded great, a harbinger of the show to come. “Tour of Duty” followed before Isbell played the first of several songs from his time in Drive-by Truckers. “Decoration Day” is not only one of Isbell’s best recorded songs; live, it gives him the opportunity to flash his slide-guitar skills. His solo Tuesday was a killer, and all night he and guitarist Sadler Vaden traded monster guitar parts.

From there, Isbell and Co. bounced around his catalog, focusing on Southeastern and 2011’s Here We Rest, but diving into his Truckers tunes as well. “Codeine,” “Cover Me Up,” “Elephant” and “Alabama Pines” were all on point, as was Isbell’s acoustic-driven “Different Days.”  The band’s cover of Candi Staton’s “Heart on a String” was a nice bonus.

The main set ended in a burst of Isbell’s Truckers songs, and the raucous “Never Gonna Change” and stirring “Outfit” were a fine combined capper to the show. The encore started with another Truckers tune, “Danko/Manuel” before the night came to a close with “Super 8” from Southeastern.

The crowd was surprisingly hardy, with most who had braved the cold and rain staying until the end. No doubt most on hand were serious Isbell fans–the VIP and Sponsor seating areas were mostly empty throughout–and he and the 400 Unit made it well worth the effort.

The Lone Bellow deserves credit for an energetic set full of some killer vocal harmonies–all sung through a torrential downpour. The view from the stage was full of open umbrellas during their hour or so on stage. “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold,” “The One You Should’ve Let Go” and their cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” all stood out.


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