Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit came to St.Paul’s Palace Theater on Friday, and I am still processing and applauding the truly class act of a musician that Jason is. Opening for Jason and co. was The Mountain Goats, yup you read that right. A band I had only heard of as a result of Jason’s stop in Minnesota but was none the less a great opener to what was a special night.
The Mountain Goats required a little bit of research for me before and after the show Friday. Originally, and at times still a one man show despite the plurality of their name, a “band” lead and founded by front man John Darnielle. Darnielle writes, sings, plays multiple instruments, and on the side it turns out is an accomplished writer. Tip of the hat to you Mr.Darnielle, I tried guitar and gave up when I heard enough Andy Mckee and Ryan Adams to make anyone cry, but we’ll skip that segue. Playing through their set every time I thought I had figured out The Mountain Goat’s sound, I was wrong. From thumping bass intros, to piano driven melodies, and even a few almost choir like harmonies that reminded me of a Gregorian Chant, I think The Mountain Goats covered the gambit on genres. Those more knowledgeable in their music may disagree, but I felt like I was watching another Beck like artist. No shying away, Darnielle just jumps into styles and though often I like some semblance of constancy in genres for an artist, I dig the eclectic style and it meshed well ultimately with Jason’s upcoming set.
Before I dive into the whole experience which is the Jason Isbell concert myself and the lucky crowd saw at the Palace Theater I have to share an observation on behalf of photographers, concerts lovers, reviewers and others. At any concert there is going to be cameras, phones, and distractions. People want to document the evening and keep it for sharing and themselves, nothing wrong with that. But many of us have been to shows where for the entirety of the show there is a sea of smart phones lighting up the crowd and consequently ruining the view of those behind. It’s a terrible time and hard to avoid sometimes in this modern era because that’s just what we accept as the norm. To my admiration and others on Friday, there were signs throughout the Palace Theater with one rule, no photo or video during tonight’s concert. The Palace Theater has a capacity of roughly 2500, and when I checked social media the day after the show, the amount of photos you could find from the night was shockingly low. It made for an indisputably amazing show and everyone for the night was present in the moment. A thank you to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, huge respect.
Now that I am off my soapbox and adoration monologue let’s discuss the music itself shall we?. If you know Isbell and his music, you LOVE him. If you don’t know him or his music, you are in the total dark and probably ask “who the heck is Jason Isbell?!”. There seems to be a similarity between Jason and artists like Ryan Adams of total love or total ignorance. If you are clueless on who Jason is, I think it’s time to get acquainted because he’s the real deal.
Opening up the set were a few newer tracks from Isbell’s 2015 album, Something More Than Free. 24 Frames is a newer one from Isbell but definitely high on my list of recommended songs to check out if you’re researching. The solid lyrics one would expect and a chorus that quickly provokes mental imagery and nostalgia. Before you go googling or asking someone next to you what the reference of 24 frames is stop. It’s a reference to old reel film and the speed at which a human eye can see at, moving on from your fun fact of the day now. After a throwback song the 400 Unit got their moment, Last of My Kind and Cumberland Gap came in at the midway point of the night. From the latest album, The Nashville Sound, I think these are two of my absolute favorites. Evidently the crowd was in agreement as the stage lit and Jason with the 400 rocked the Palace.
It was only right that after some new songs that some of Isbell’s staple songs close out the night. Cover Me Up was the first of the older songs which I was ridiculously excited to hear live for the first time. A song that you can’t hear without taking your own moments of silence to hear the rawness in the words. Hear the lines ” Days when we raged, we flew off the page. Such damage was done. But I made it through, ’cause somebody knew. I was meant for someone” and if you’re like me you’re thinking get me a stiff drink immediately. Another crowd favorite before the show “ended” was It Takes A Lifetime, add that one to your list of Isbell must listens if you don’t know it. The only song I was sad not to hear in the night was Elephant. A song that just dumps a world of movie like visuals on you and yet despite all the sadness in the words, you go back for more because of how much it provokes within.
Being this was my first opportunity to catch Jason Isbell since running across his music only a few years ago, I was blown away. From the truly down to earth, let’s play some music, approach of Jason and the band. To the crowd being totally present and happy to oblige the no photo policy for he night. It was a night of genuine appreciation for a lyrical master and truly raw artist. I feel almost cheated that I haven’t seen him live until now and even more so that I have a couple years under my belt listening to the music itself. But it was the total package for everything I seek in live music and I can’t think of anything that ruined it. Well, minus that one guy who almost spilled my drink. But hey, let’s not be petty. See Jason, just do it. Next time you have the opportunity get tickets, leave your phones and worries at home and be present. You’ll love it I assure.
The Mountain Goats: Rain in Soho, This Year, The Best Death Metal Band in Denton
Jason Isbell: Cover Me Up, Elephant, 24 Frames, and Cumberland Gap