There are some performers who really pull you into the moment, the type that deliver a performance that is all encompassing and I was in the presence of one last week. This has been the third time in a year and half that I have seen Jason Isbell and have yet to be disappointed.
The night started with Robert Ellis who put on a fantastic show despite the lack of enthusiasm in the crowd. The Pabst is a beautiful place to see a show with the phenomenal acoustics and breathtaking architecture but it sucks the energy out of crowd when everybody feels obligated to stay in their seats.
This was actually the second time I had the opportunity to see Ellis perform, the first being at the Majestic in Madison, WI with Deertick headlining. The first show was definitely a cozier setting and included a great rendition of “Daydreaming” by Middle Brother with John McCauley of Deertick. The band was thinner that night with only Ellis and his steel guitar player which did not give me the same impression as when I saw him with his full band backing. I definitely got the singer/songwriter aspect during his previous performance but missed how talented and well put together his music really was. Some of the music reminded me slightly of Graham Parson mixed with bluegrass, which is definitely not a bad thing in my book. The songs that stood out to me included “Sing Along” and “Houston” from his new album “The Lights from the Chemical Plant”. Ellis ended with “Houston” but broke it down for a minute or two before starting into the song. This was the highlight of his performance for me, it was chaotic but beautiful.
Jason Isbell opened the night with “Flying over Water” a song from his new album “Southeastern” to start the night. The crowd did seem to warm up a bit once the main show started and by following his opening song with “Decoration Day” a song Isbell wrote while with the Drive by Truckers really set the night off. I have heard it before live but the guitar solo in this song always blows me away in concert. Isbell is also a gentleman on stage, he demonstrated this by introducing each band member in between songs and gathering applause. This may seem a small gesture to some folks but really puts a huge smile across my concert going heart when all the talent on stage gets recognition. He was also seen adoring his wife (Amanda Shires) particularly during their cover of Warren Zevon’s “Mutiny” which brought a sense of genuineness to the night and to his new album for me.
He had quite the set list, which is below but some big highlights for me were “Goddamn Lonely Love”, “Super 8”, and “Elephant”. The latter was performed by just Isbell and his guitar, this accentuated the strength in Isbell’s music. He has a powerful voice that cuts through your skin and the stories he tells seem so close to his chest that he pays mind to each and every word. These are the reasons why his music has continued to gather a larger audience and a loyal fan base. A listener cannot help but see the weight of sincerity he has for his craft and the effort he puts forth each and every night for his fans. The night ended with “Stockholm” which has been spinning on our local 88.9 station in Milwaukee, which seemed to please all in attendance.
1.) Flying over Water
3.)Go it Alone
4.)Goddamn Lonely Love
5.)Heart on a String *Candi Staton cover
9.) Traveling Alone
10.) Cover Me Up
12.)Songs That She Sang In The Shower
15.) Never Gonna Change
1.) Mutiny (Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires) *Warren Zevon cover