Jason Isbell/John Moreland in Brighton, UK
First gig of the year for me; one I’d been looking forward to very much, especially as it was to be my first time seeing John Moreland play live. He opened the night with a 45 minute set (previous opening sets he’d played on the continental European leg of the tour were 30 minutes in length) so we were treated to a nice showcase of songs from his albums. Moreland hardly said anything between songs, just introduced himself and told us when he’d got two more songs to play, mentioning that Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit would be on stage shortly. He therefore let his music do his talking for him – and how! He had immediately captured not only the sold-out audience’s attention but their hearts as well. He’s an excellent songwriter. Gritty, raw and tear-jerking – a talent to watch. Excellent set. He’ll be back, I have no doubt, and hope that next time he gets to headline his own shows – he so deserves to!
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played for about an hour and 50 minutes, including two encore songs. The venue’s capacity, 600, was all standing and this does impact on the way in which people behave and dare I say – drink? It was very different from my last Isbell gig, which was a duo acoustic show at Cambridge Folk Festival.
Isbell and his four-piece band enjoyed a rapturous Brighton welcome. It was heartening to see so many ‘youngsters’ in the audience; the shows I go to generally attract an older demographic (me included!) and the youngsters obviously knew his material as many, standing near by, sang along.
However, the sound mix was unbalanced, on the louder, electric guitar led numbers with Isbell’s vocals being drowned out by the instruments. I despaired for the first couple of songs; however, the balance did improve but was still ‘muddy’ on the louder numbers. Thankfully, when Isbell led with an acoustic guitar the mix was fine, and you could hear the lyrics. He’s such a powerful writer so it was a shame that the balance was out of sync for some of the songs. Gripe over.
The set list was chosen with care to satisfy long-standing Isbell fans as well as newer converts to his music. His last two (solo) albums Southeastern and Something More Than Free have both received much critical acclaim and brought him to the attention of new audiences. Not forgetting older fans though, he included material from his Drive By Truckers days (“Decoration Day”, “Outfit” and “Never Gonna Change”) and from his 400 Unit catalogue he offered up a stunning version of “Alabama Pines” and closed out the night with “Codeine”.
The biggest salutes were for “24 Frames” (Grammy nominated for best American roots song) and “Super 8” which had the fans near me bopping away! “Cover Me Up” in which he sings about how his wife (Amanda Shires) ‘rescued’ him from his excessive drinking habit, seems to have gained similar responses from the audiences across the Atlantic in so far as when he sings “I sobered up and I swore off that stuff” everyone raises their glasses in a toast to him. Cheering a non-drinker with alcohol???
The tour continues; Isbell/Moreland is an excellent pairing and it was very reassuring to see this Americana infused music gaining such good audience numbers, in Brighton (and hopefully everywhere else as well!)