Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit•Deer Tick•July 8, 2023• Red Butte Garden

Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe

There are some nights where an evening, and a venue match an artist just perfectly.  Jul 8, 2023 at Red Butte Garden the great Jason Isbell and his incredible band the 400 Unit stopped by Salt Lake City on what was a quintessential Utah summer evening.  Every so often Isbell comes to Utah and plays another venue.  Some of them are venues I typically like.  But when a venue like Red Butte pairs this well, it’s clear that he should never play any other venue when he comes to Utah. 

On this tour Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit would be featuring their recently released album Weathervanes.  So much so that they played eleven of the thirteen songs on the album. They mixed in a number of crowd favorites and hit singles that brought together both audience and artists.  I had been anticipating this concert as one of my “Must See” concerts since it was announced. It did not disappoint.

Deer Tick

The evening began with Deer Tick, a band from Rhode Island.  They shared that they have toured with Jason and the 400 Unit over the years.  They were so gracious in the way they thanked Isbell and his band for having them on this tour.  My take on Deer Tick is that they almost sound like an Alternative Music band, but then also almost sound like a Country Music band.  I’m sure their fans love them because they fall somewhere in between.  The audience was very attentive to their set.  While they may not have been jumping and dancing, each time a song would end, the volume of the ovation would indicate that they were definitely listening.  Deer Tick will be returning to Utah on Nov 3, 2023, at The Commonwealth Room.  They’re definitely worth checking out.

Jason Isbell

There seems to be a real connection between Jason Isbell and his Utah fans.  I’d imagine every city feels that way but seeing as I’ve only seen him here in Salt Lake City, I’m going to go with there being a real bond here.  Jason lead the way down the walkway to the Red Butte stage.  When he took center stage the majority of the crowd had popped out of their beach chairs and were ready for what was to come.  Straight out of the gate, Isbell played two songs from Weathervane, “Save the World” and “King of Oklahoma”.  Those were followed by “Dreamsicle”.  This song is one of the many examples of Jason Isbell’s masterful songwriting.  The song is about his parent’s divorce.  The lyrics are so personal and relatable to so many. 

As I mentioned, the centerpiece of the concert was the focus of the new songs off of Isbell’s highly acclaimed new album, Weathervanes.  It feels like once you have an established career, and fans start to gravitate to certain songs, those are all the songs they want to hear they begin to become less interested in new releases.  This was definitely not the case here.  Each time a new song would start, people seemed to be excited.  Jason even told the audience how happy he was to see that people weren’t running to the beer line or to the restroom when he’d play a new song.  He told us he was going to play them anyway, but “It makes it a whole lot more fun that you guys actually enjoy hearing them.”   

While it was extremely enjoyable to hear the new songs live for the first time.  But as you’d expect, hearing those Jason Isbell favorites was as satisfying as you’d expect.  Hearing a song like “Last Of My Kind” will never get old.  And “Cover Me Up” will always make me emotional.  It’s such a moving, personal song.  There are lyrics in there that I find so identifiable.  I loved looking throughout the audience and seeing people singing along, some with glistening eyes.  It’s one of the best songs ever written and I love hearing Jason perform it each time he comes to town.  

One of the fun surprises on this tour was getting to hear guitarist, Sadler Vaden take the lead vocals.  He was in a band called Drivin’ and Cryin’.  The 400 Unit covered their song, “Honeysuckle Blue”. It just goes to show how much talent is in this band.  Vaden’s voice was so good!  It’s already obvious that he’s an incredible guitar player, but I had no idea he had these kinds of vocals.  It was a fun song and a great moment in the show.  

Jason Isbell concerts never seem long enough.  The show went for over two hours and yet when he left the stage for the encore, I was surprised we had reached the end. The band returned to play a couple of my very favorite songs, “24 Frames” and “Vampires”.  The show ended with one more Weathervanes tracks, “This Ain’t It”. It was hard to believe the show was over.  Isbell could have played for another hour.  And while I missed some of the staples that are usually on the setlist, I really enjoyed the show and seeing how the new songs fit with the others.  My hope is that we get another visit next summer because Jason Isbell at Red Butte Garden will always be a perfect match. 

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