20 Jun Scene & Heard: Jason Isbell at the Taft
Every now and again you go to a gig where everything is just perfect, the venue is great for the event, the support act kick up a storm and the main act turn out to be even better than you’d hoped for. Wednesday night at the Taft Theater in Cincinnati was one of those nights!
Being a Brit, I was looking forward to seeing Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. To my shame I never saw him perform live in the UK, only seeing him on TV, most notably at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony in London. He kicked off his set at the Taft with “I Still Believe” from his England Keep My Bones album, starting off the song on his own, with the Sleeping Souls joining him on stage one by one. The audience enthusiastically took up his offer to join in the chorus. He followed this with “The Next Storm,” from his most recent album, Positive Songs for Negative People, another barn storming anthem. Apart from this great opening, the highlights for me were “Peggy Sang the Blues,” a song, he told us, about his grandmother giving him his first taste of whisky at the age of ten, and Dan’s Song, which he’d written for a recently departed friend. The one low point, for me anyway, was the audience participation slot with a guy being brought on from the crowd to play (badly) a harmonica solo! Other than that, it was a superb energetic set, which more than got the crowd warmed up for the main event.
I’ve seen Jason Isbell a few times prior to the Taft, firstly back in the UK, at the London Palladium in April 2012, supporting Ryan Adams. That night he performed a brilliant, but short, solo set. I then saw him a couple of years ago at the Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, that time with a full band. With it being a festival, again his set was far too short, so to say I was looking forward to seeing him perform a full set was a bit of an understatement!
And he didn’t disappoint!
The concert covered all eras of his career, with three songs from his time with the Drive-By Truckers. The best of these for me being “Decoration Day“. I saw the Drive-By Truckers a few weeks ago at Bogarts, and I have to say when Jason Isbell and his band rocked out, they were more than a match for the DBTs. The bulk of the set-list was taken from his two most recent albums, Southeastern and Something More Than Free, and that was fine by me. Southeastern for me is just a classic and one of my favorite albums and it was great to hear some of these songs performed live. “Different Days” and “Stockholm” were standouts for me, but “Cover Me Up,” just blew me away. The new songs sounded even better live, “Hudson Commodore” and “Speed Trap Town” being highlights for me. He also threw in “Alabama Pines,” a song I love.
For the encore, he performed “Elephant” and “Flying Over Water” from Southeastern, sandwiched between these two was “Sing Me Back Home,” a beautiful Merle Haggard song.
It was a great set, with a great band, including his wife Amanda Shires, and the show was enhanced by a brilliant set design and spectacular lighting.
Now the evening could have ended there and I would have left for home feeling more than satisfied, but I was lucky enough to meet Frank Turner after the show.
And what a great guy he is. He had time for everyone and was more than obliging, posing for photos and signing autographs. I found out he’d just been touring with Gogol Bordello, somewhat different from Jason Isbell! Apart from talking about previous gigs he’s performed in my old town, he mentioned that he was returning to Cincinnati for the Midpoint Music Festival, how good is that?
So all in all, one superb night! – Tony Newboult, Morrow, OH (Photo courtesy of Tony Newboult)