“You thought God was an architect, now you know
He's something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built it's all for show, goes up in flames
In 24 frames”
I am singing along to these words with Jason Isbell, my meaning that I am articulating with deep passion perhaps a little different to Isbell’s original idea. Then just as we finish singing, 400 Units’ guitarist Sadler Vaden plays the tastiest of little motifs and my whole body releases a wee whoop from my lips as if surprised the most sublime musical beauty.
Sweet mercy but is Isbell even more of a revelation live than he is on record. My thinking was that Isbell was the songwriter and a voice that was supplemented by the 400 Units. Yes and no. The 400 Units are one tight little unit but Mr Isbell is a more than able guitarist himself.
Indeed he and the aforementioned Units’ guitarist Sadler Vaden trade extended solos throughout the night while the band do indeed surround the mailman with musical and vocal wonder. At times they remind me of Crazy Horse at times very early Eagles and perhaps Steve Earle’s Dukes in-between.
It is an utterly wonderful noise and above it of course are the songs. Perhaps the weakness of the Upper Circle at the Olympia is that some of Isbell’s subtle lyrics get lost in the mix that is heading so high up but not all is lost.
I surmise as he sings Elephant, about the elephants in the room that we ignore, that Isbell is a writer who ignores none of the elephants. He is most often straight to the heart raw. If We Were Vampires, as I listened with Janice 100 miles away, struck an emotional blow:
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind
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
It seems we bought these tickets years ago. Covid kept us waiting. I have been excited about seeing Jason Isbell since Southeastern converted me with a happy shudder around a decade ago. Jason Isbell and the 400 Units is probably the sound that my soul most loves in the world today. It was so worth the wait.