It’s fair to say when this gig was first announced back in early 2020, expectations were raised, with the 4 times Grammy winner riding high on the back of his recent, rather splendid ‘Reunions’ album. Well, exactly two years to the night, Jason Isbell finally hit the stage of the beautiful Olympia Theatre in Dublin, and blew those expectations out of the water.
The capacity crowd was treated to an amazing display of musical virtuosity, superb songwriting, high emotions, and ultimately a celebration of the uniting power of music. The release of ‘Southeastern’ saw Isabell finally recognised at the big table of major songwriters. He has a talent for writing deeply emotionally moving songs, never sentimental, always grounded in the harsh realities of life. ‘Elephant’, his elegiac letter to a partner dying of cancer:
I’ve buried her a thousand times, given up my place and time, but I don’t give a damn about that now. There’s one thing that’s clear to me: no one dies with dignity, We just try and ignore the elephant somehow, somehow
There are few if any writers in any genre writing at this heart-wrenching level. It seems everyone knows the words and sings along, but seemingly to themselves as if they are transported to a place of quiet reflection, perhaps in solemn reminiscence of a loved one themselves. Consider also, these lines from ‘We were Vampires’:
It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever. Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone. Maybe we’ll get forty years together. But one day I’ll be gone, Or one day you’ll be gone
On record, this is hugely affecting, in a live setting, it is a lump in the throat time.
Isbell mixes the pace and atmosphere of the gig. One song invites self-reflection, the next a joyous release with chiming guitar solos by co-star Sadler Vaden. The effect at times is mesmerising.
A number of the songs featured tonight are from the ‘Reunions’ album, and continue the incredibly high standard of his recent albums.
Jumbo Harts is the driving force behind ‘What have I done to Deserve This.’ ‘Hope the High Road’ continues the high energy level. The interaction between Isbell and Vaden is a marvel to behold and hear. Vaden even takes the lead vocal on ‘Honeysuckle Blue’.
The 400 Unit smile and nod to each other, each instinctively knowing their part to play, and aware of just how good they are clearly enjoying the work of creating such marvelous music. A stunning cover of Fleetwood Mac’s epic, ‘Oh Well’ is introduced by Isbel saying that this is his seven-year-old daughter’s favourite. “Which as a songwriter, is a little embarrassing”.
The sheer quality of the man’s own catalogue is quite staggering, ‘Only Children’, ’24 Frames’, ‘Speed Trap Town’, ‘Stockholm’, and ‘Cover Me Up’. It’s a night no one wants to end.
Solos and sentiment, emotion and elation, Jason and his band brought their ‘A’ game tonight, and the crowd loved it, as they leave the old theatre, voices tired, but spirits and souls lifted.