Swear I'm not Paul: Live Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Set Theatre, Kilkenny, 30 April 2010

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Live Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Set Theatre, Kilkenny, 30 April 2010

Friday night's late, late gig at the Set Theatre in Kilkenny as part of the wonderful Rhythm and Roots Festival was my third time seeing Jason Isbell, and second time with the 400 Unit. From this experience, I think he's much better with the 400 Unit rather than solo or with just guitarist Browan Lalor accompanying.

The last time I saw Jason was in a three-quarters full Whelan's and he didn't seem in good spirits, however the Smiithwicks on Friday night must have gone down well, as he was in great form and was entertaining throughout. He was extremely chatty and even told stories between songs.

One was how he liked visiting Ireland because the people understood what he was saying, unlike New York or Amsterdam. Thus we could understand his "Sometimes I miss my ex-wife, but my aim is getting better" joke, which he said didn't go down as well in the Netherlands.

Many of the people in attendance popped along as part of the festival, and were easily converted as the 400 Unit pulled out all the stops on fantastic versions of their own songs, as well as some Drive-By Truckers classics. There were many standouts, 'Outfit' and 'Never Gonna Change' are always excellent, but 'Decoration Day' impressed me more this time than on past occasions.

Isbell and the 400 Unit's own repertoire was well represented too, especially from their self-titled record. 'Streetlights' and 'Soldiers Get Strange' were impressive, but it would've been nice to hear more from Sirens of the Ditch. As it was, 'The Magician' and 'Dress Blues' stood out most.

There wasn't too much new from what I had seen Isbell perform before, but Browan's take on Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' was a highlight, as was their instrumental performance of a New Orleans blues track, which I think Isbell called 'Believing' (although I could have misheard).

The Set Theatre is a gorgeous venue (Kilkenny's finest, in my opinion), and Isbell thought so too. He commented that it was like a strip club in Alabama called Platinum Plus where he used to visit, and could see Triple 6 Mafia on the balconies "throwing down piles of money at the strippers". "You know those guys have an Oscar now?"

Watch Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - 'Outfit' at the Set Theatre:

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