Jason Isbell Live Review

Jason Isbell Live Review | The Florida Theatre, Jacksonville & The Plaza Live, Orlando | May 12 & 15, 2015

by • May 22, 2015

“You can hear it, or you can keep yelling for it. This is one of those choose your own adventure shows.”

That was Jason Isbell’s response to the rowdy room at The Plaza Live in Orlando bleating out requests for “Outfit.” In contrast to the reverent crowd at Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre earlier in the week, this group of fans was restless and demanding. The former was a gorgeous twenty two song set in a refined theater, heavy on Isbell’s recent masterpiece, Southeastern. The latter was an equally enjoyable show at a rock club full of people who were half cut back and eager for a singalong.

The rowdiness of the room at The Plaza drowned Craig Finn’s opening solo set, but the crowd’s raucous energy seemed to ironically fuel the newly sober Isbell and his excellent band, The 400 Unit. Commercial success — and perhaps a little bit of settling down —  has put Isbell in theaters for a few years now. He eluded to the energy in the room more than once with nostalgia for playing rowdy rock clubs; and even took to social media to praise the atmosphere at The Plaza saying, “Great night in Orlando! Theaters are beautiful places, but it feels great to play a big ol’ rock club every once in awhile.”

Jason Isbell at The Plaza Live

The Plaza was an appropriate venue to turn up the amplifiers and raise hell. The 400 Unit did just that. Both setlists, Jacksonville and Orlando, were heavy on songs from the personal and introspective album, Southeastern. But The Plaza show in Orlando leaned more on Isbell and Sadler Vaden’s guitars. Vaden was relegated to support duty at The Florida Theatre. At The Plaza, he and Isbell traded licks during an emotionally honest slaying of the newly departed B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” as part of the encore. Isbell is maybe the best songwriter in the world right now, but his excellent guitar playing was given its rightful stage in Orlando.

A great performer feeds off of the energy of the crowd and reacts accordingly. Isbell assessed the vibe early in both towns. Both setlists were expertly constructed to fit the atmosphere of each venue. The Florida Theatre set was front loaded with military-themed songs, which was appropriate given Jacksonville’s strong military identity. “Tour of Duty” and “Dress Blues” were played back-to-back behind the military-monikered “Decoration Day.” Whereas the Plaza set, although similar in general composition and duration, was geared toward a party crowd.

We are witnessing a man on top of his game. He played the first single (“24 Frames”) from his forthcoming, eagerly awaited follow up to Southeastern on both nights. In it, Isbell says that God is “something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.” Following the success of Southeastern, Isbell must feel similarly. He stopped drinking, married a brilliant and gorgeous singer-songwriter, and then recorded a once in a lifetime record–all within a couple years’ time. The pressure of that kind of renaissance would make most of us react like a pipe bomb.

Jason Isbell at The Plaza Live

Perhaps that lyric is a harbinger of things to come. But, hopefully we are simply witnessing a songwriter of the highest caliber who is also humble and self-aware enough to stay hungry and grow dynamically. No one would bitch about Isbell playing the same set from here to South Tampa and back. He could solely play Drive-by Truckers songs every night and still make a living. But he is creating art that people really want to hear. Instead of relying on the past, he played two invigorating, diverse sets that gave each Florida crowd what it needed. Jason Isbell is who he is now, and that is exactly what we expect him to be.

Setlist for The Florida Theatre:

  1. Stockholm
  2. Flyin’ Over Water
  3. Go It Alone
  4. Decoration Day
  5. Tour of Duty
  6. Dress Blues
  7. Codeine
  8. Different Days
  9. Songs She Sang in the Shower
  10. New South Wales
  11. Cover Me Up
  12. Relatively Easy
  13. Live Oak
  14. Alabama Pines
  15. Elephant
  16. Ain’t Never Gonna Change
  17. Outfit
  18. 24 Frames
  19. Super 8 Motel
  20.  Encore:
  21. Travellin’ Alone
  22. Danko/Manuel
  23. Like a Hurricane

Setlist for The Plaza Live:

  1. Decoration Day
  2. Stockholm
  3. Flyin’ Over Water
  4. Tour of Duty
  5. Goddamn Lonely Love
  6. Go It Alone
  7. Live Oak
  8. Alabama Pines
  9. Different Days
  10. Travellin’ Alone
  11. New South Wales
  12. Songs She Sang in the Shower
  13. Cover Me Up
  14. Relatively Easy
  15. Codeine
  16. Elephant
  17. Never Gonna Change
  18. Dress Blues
  19. 24 Frames
  20. Outfit

Encore:

  1. The Thrill is Gone (B.B. King cover)
  2. Super 8 Motel

Jason Isbell live review by Jason Earle.


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