Any worries that he and his band The 400 Unit would rush through a stunted set, though, were quickly quashed by another stellar Salt Lake City appearance by the former Drive-By Trucker.
Three albums into his post-Truckers career, Isbell has to be tired of the references to his former band. But when that band has such a huge reputation as a live act—and considering Isbell wrote some of their best songs during his six years in the group—it’s still difficult not to look as his current work in relation to his Truckers output.
Thankfully, he doesn’t shy away from performing some of those older songs, and on Friday, Truckers tunes like “Outfit” and “Goddamn Lonely Love” were among the highlights. It’s worth noting, though, that they in no way exceeded the songs he’s been creating the past few years on his own.
Show-opener “Alabama Pines,” the first track from Isbell’s new Here We Rest album, was an ideal intro, showcasing a little more twang and a little less rawk than much of Isbell’s catalog. That holds true for Here We Rest in general, and other highlights from the new set Friday were “Tour of Duty” and the bluesy “Got It Alone.”
The soulful “Heart on a String,” also from Here We Rest, showed that Isbell and the 400 Unit can move in unexpected directions; the STAX vibe was palpable, and welcome. And the cover of The Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way” did the same, showcasing a groovier side to the band than they’ve displayed in the past with covers like Talking Heads and Van Morrison.
By the time the show closed down with an epic take on “Codeine,” complete with backing vocals from opener Maria Taylor and her sister, Isbell and Co. had again proven a must-see live act.
Their shows aren’t quite the draining rock workouts that mark the Drive-By Truckers’ tours, but Isbell has found a comfortable place as a singer/songwriter with an ace band at his disposal. Here’s hoping he’ll remain a regular visitor.
(Photo by Patrick Kendall via Isbell's Facebook page)