Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit returned to Pier 17 for a mesmerizing rooftop show (review)

Last September, not long after live music finally started up again, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit came to NYC for two shows at the gorgeous rooftop venue at Pier 17, their first NYC shows since releasing their excellent Reunions. Almost exactly a year later, they returned to the same venue for another two-night stand, on Thursday (9/1) with Adia Victoria and Friday (9/2) with Bully. I caught the Friday show, which kicked off with Reunions opener “What’ve I Done to Help,” but having already done a Reunions-heavy set last year, this was more of a career-spanning show, with a good mix of songs from his last four albums and his Drive-By Truckers days, and he switched things up a bit across the two nights. At Thursday’s show, he covered Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty,” and also brought out Adia Victoria during his encore to do their collaborative cover of Precious Bryant’s “The Truth” from Jason’s Georgia covers album.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Sadler Vaden on guitar, Jimbo Hart on bass, Derry Deborja on keys, and Chad Gamble on drums (Jason’s wife Amanda Shires is also often a member but she’s about to begin her own tour) — are truly a unit, the kind of band you have to see live to fully experience. Jason’s become one of his generation’s most consistently great songwriters, and his albums are among the most meticulously-crafted studio records within modern folk or country or Americana or rock or whatever you consider his music to be, but the live show is a different beast. The 400 Unit’s chemistry is magnetic; Jason and Sadler Vaden trade guitar solos and slide-guitar licks and they both make their guitars sing in a way that’s just as emotional and impactful as Jason’s lyrics. Chad Gamble and Jimbo Hart hold down the tight-knit rhythm section, and Derry Deborja fills the sound with his keyboard arrangements. And on top of it all, Jason’s words hit you in the gut just as hard as they do on the records. Sometimes even harder.

After “What’ve I Done to Help,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit went on to touch on tons of favorites throughout the show, including “Hope the High Road,” “24 Frames,” “Speed Trap Town,” “Outfit,” “The Life You Chose,” “Something More Than Free,” “Cover Me Up,” “If We Were Vampires,” and plenty of others. There were a handful of beloved tracks he played at night one and/or Saturday’s NJ show that weren’t played on Friday (like “Cumberland Gap,” “Elephant,” “Last of My Kind,” and “Be Afraid”), but Jason’s got such a massive, strong catalog at this point that basically any setlist he comes up with feels like a greatest hits set. And every song he played was welcomed with open arms from the loving crowd. Jason also took a moment to turn lead vocals over to Sadler, who sang “Honeysuckle Blue” by Drivin’ N Cryin’ — a band Sadler used to be in — which the 400 Unit recorded for the Georgia covers album. After roughly 90 minutes, the 400 Unit said their goodbyes, leaving us wanting more, just like they did last year. Hopefully it won’t be long before they make their return to NYC yet again.

Bully‘s grungy opening set was also great, a nice change of pace from what was about to go down with the 400 Unit — especially when they ended with their noise-drenched cover of Mclusky’s “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” — but still a good fit and definitely seemed to win over those who got there early. Check out some videos from both nights (including the Townes Van Zandt cover) and both setlists below…

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit @ The Rooftop at Pier 17 – 9/2/2022 Setlist (via)
What’ve I Done to Help
Hope the High Road
24 Frames
Speed Trap Town
Only Children
Honeysuckle Blue (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ cover)
Outfit (Drive‐By Truckers song)
The Life You Chose
Traveling Alone
Something More Than Free
Goddamn Lonely Love (Drive‐By Truckers song)
Something to Love
Super 8
Cover Me Up

If We Were Vampires
Different Days
Decoration Day (Drive‐By Truckers song)

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit @ The Rooftop at Pier 17 – 9/1/2022 Setlist (incomplete and not in order) (via)
24 Frames
Hope the High Road
It Gets Easier
Songs That She Sang in the Shower
Alabama Pines
Happy Birthday to You (Dedicated to Jason’s daughter, Mercy)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Cumberland Gap
Honeysuckle Blue (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ cover)
If We Were Vampires
Super 8
Last of My Kind
Cover Me Up

The Truth (Precious Bryant cover) (with Adia Victoria)
Never Gonna Change (Drive‐By Truckers song)

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