On a track from his latest release The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell laments “Am I the last of my kind?” about the times in his life when he’s felt like a fish out of water. Isbell was far from the last of his kind last Sunday night in Huber Heights. The enthusiastic Rose Music Center crowd stood for the entire show, singing along to Isbell’s newest releases as if they were old favorites. Despite the album only being out for two weeks, Isbell’s 19 song set featured 9 of its 10 songs. While these new songs replaced standards that Isbell usually includes in his sets (many penned during his tenure with Drive-By Truckers), this new set was flawlessly delivered and well-received.
If you’re not familiar with Isbell, I encourage you to read Jason Isbell: The Youngest Old Man in Country, in the latest Men’s Journal. As with many great lyricists, he has his demons. Yet, in conquering those demons (after an intervention from his current wife and others), he has written numerous insightful and poignant songs. In this set, Isbell seamlessly wove together moving songs about cancer - “Elephant,” addiction and recovery - “Teach Me How To Forget” and “Anxiety,” as well as songs rife with timely social commentary - “Last of My Kind,” “Cumberland Gap,” and “White Man’s World.”
Isbell is at his best, though, when writing about relationships (“Chaos and Clothes;” “Something More Than Free;” "Molotov;” "Stockholm”). However, no song is better than the song he penned for his wife, and fellow band-mate, Amanda Shires (violin) — “Cover Me Up.” You immediately know that Shires inspired him deeply as they gazed at each other while he belted, “So girl, leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leaving this room until someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.”
Please do not read the foregoing as meaning that Isbell authors only melancholy tunes—he is a talented guitarist that can rock without it feeling forced. He closed the main set with his Drive-By Truckers anthem, “Never Gonna Change,” a 10 minute rocker that features him dueling with long-time bandmate Sadler Vaden. He then closed his encore with the only cover of the evening, “Whipping Post” in tribute to the late Gregg Allman—a spectacular exclamation point to another solid Isbell show.
I decided to go to this show before Isbell announced his upcoming August 27th appearance in Columbus at the Ohio Theatre, so if you missed this show you can catch him again soon. If there is ever an artist appearing at Rose Music Center that you’re interested in, don’t hesitate to make the trip. It’s a great venue just off of I-70, an easy drive from Columbus, with no bad seats (similar to Express Live’s outdoor setting, but completely covered, with all permanent seating), and the easy-access parking is free.
Isbell is known for selecting eclectic openers. I first saw him with Frank Turner. This time he was supported by ever-evolving indie folk band The Mountain Goats. The band succeeded in winning over new fans as it played selections from its 23 year catalog.
Jason Isbell Setlist:
Something More Than Free
Hope the High Road
White Man’s World
Something to Love
Chaos and Clothes
Flying Over Water
Last of My Kind
How To Forget
Cover Me Up
Never Gonna Change
If We Were Vampires