In Focus: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Beak & Skiff

Day long winds and heavy rain, along with a gloomy evening forecast did not deter the strong contingent of Jason Isbell fans from turning out to Beak & Skiff in LaFayette on Saturday June 29, as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit made their return to Central New York

Isbell, the critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, and guitarist has been touring endlessly in support of 2023’s acclaimed release, Weathervanes.  The album showcases Isbell at his finest, with a package of songs focused on heavy topics like love and loss, addiction, and nostalgia, backed by powerful guitars and haunting melodies.  Isbell, an Alabama native, formed with the 400 Unit in 2009 after he departed the Drive By Truckers.  The 400 Unit, which consists of Sadler Vaden (guitars), Chad Gamble (drums), Anna Butterss (bass guitar), Derry deBorja (keyboards), and Will Johnson (percussion), have become an integral piece to both Isbell’s studio albums and live tours.  

Heavy winds and rains started early and often on Saturday and continued until one final rain shower blew through the outdoor concert field shortly before 6pm. The tumultuous weather forced the cancelling of opener Courtney Marie Andrews’ set and led to a restructured timeline for the music events on this evening.  That did not deter music fans from turning out in near capacity, and shortly before 7pm they were rewarded with a sun which had finally broke free of the heavy cloud cover that had dressed the fields through out the day.  

Just after 7pm Isbell stepped on stage with his bandmates, flashing a smile and delivering praise to those in attendance for riding out the weather.   The band launched into the gritty rocker “When We Were Close” which immediately had fans out of their chairs and making way close to the stage.  Isbell wasted no time showing off tracks from his 2023 release, opening the concert with four consecutive tracks off the album.  The third song this evening, “King of Oklahoma” which features a powerful, stadium-anthem like chorus, saw the first of several epic guitar-solo duals between Isbell and Vaden.  

Through out the evening it became abundantly clear why Isbell has received such high praises as a songwriter.  Few artists have the ability to place the listener into the scene with their lyrics quite like Isbell can.  Vivid imagery, like on “Strawberry Woman” place the listener next to the song’s narrator, while addressing heavy topics all too familiar to many.  

Over the course of the 110 minute set, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit treated those in attendance to a set spanning their entire catalog, performing favorites like “Alabama Pines”, “If We Were Vampires”, “24 Frames”, “Flying Over Water” and “Cover Me Up”. They even paid tribute to The Cure, by playing “Just Like Heaven” late in the set. It was a simple gesture to pay homage to the band’s classic rock roots, and one that was well received by all in attendance.

The Beak & Skiff Summer Concert Series continues on Sunday, July 7, with a performance by Lake Street Dive.

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