Jason Isbell at the Bluebird, 9/4/13
Jason Isbell on stage last night at the Bluebird Theater.
JASON ISBELL @ BLUEBIRD THEATER | 9/4/13
Jason Isbell didn't demand respect last night, but he certainly commanded it with his music. As he played a blistering set at the Bluebird that spanned two hours, the crowd sang along, hooted and hollered out requests, but on multiple occasions the talkers (tsk tsk -- you know who you are) were seen being shushed, giving him a level of respect that testifies to the kind of clout Isbell's developed in his brief yet illustrious post-Drive-By Truckers solo career.
T. Hardy Morris lathered up the crowd admirably with a set of downtrodden songs that were reminiscent of Bonnie "Prince" Billy and the whole damn canon of modernist, minimalist folk singers. This was all fine and well -- you can hardly go wrong with a lap steel guitar and some seriously dark lyrics -- but by 9 p.m., we were thirsty for The Rock.
And The Rock we did receive, as Isbell emerged in a simple black button-down carrying a guitar, leading the set off with "Flying Over Water." That, and maybe half of last night's songs were from Southeastern, an album that is unquestionably Isbell's breakthrough and will likely end up on many critic's best-of lists come December. It would surely end up on this crowd's list, if their singing along with every single word of this song was any indication.
More mass singalongs followed. Another Southeastern standout, "Go It Alone," was followed by a couple Drive-By Truckers tunes, "Goddamn Lonely Love" and "Decoration Day." These were songs built for audience participation and lonesome drives; they work on a number of levels. And, like pretty much all of Isbell's catalog, they're deceptively simple. How many jackasses do you know who play acoustic guitars and sing about bad loves and bad decisions? Stop counting -- you get the point. Isbell does it better than anyone you know, and he does it casually and humbly, and before you get to the second verse, he's probably already sang a line that has cut your heart up.
"Elephant" and "Live Oak" came next, bringing the show to its self-reflective, coffeeshop-esque midpoint. Perhaps the set wasn't planned that way, but it was necessary to do a couple acoustic numbers because Isbell's guitarist's amp had stopped working. A few minutes later, Isbell announced that the band needed to take a break to fix the technical difficulties. An intermission, as it were. Ten minutes later, the band resumed. "You just gotta reboot it, close out all your apps," Isbell joked, showing no sign of stress over the fact that one-fifth of his band stopped working temporarily.