Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit performing at Hammersmith Apollo in 2022

Live Review: Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at The Apollo, Hammersmith

I went to see two gigs last week. This for me, at 46, is a lot of gigs.

The first one was The Mountain Goats. I was so excited about this one. The first hour was drab, the second hour was genius and rabble rousing and perfect but by then they had lost their new audience, including the three people that I had brought with me sadly.

The next gig was Jason Isbell. A bit of background: Danny from Subliminal Girls and I have been listening to a lot of country, unashamedly – we love lyrics. Indier that thou get knotted. Danny bought tickets to this show in 2021 thinking it was two days before the gig, it was year and two days so of course we forgot, until he reminded me – I nearly didn’t make it for family reasons.

It was a Thursday, I drove so I had half a beer, I had listened to a few of his songs once. I was expecting to be bored then come home. He came on with ’24 Frames’, to the same reaction as when I saw a reformed Guns and Roses come on with ‘Welcome to The Jungle’ or when Radiohead ditched the cool and played ‘Creep’ at Glastonbury 1997. This person is not loved, he is worshipped.

The guitar nerds among us will know of Dan from That Pedal Show. He posted on Facebook that he cried during soundcheck – it is 50 seconds into a band that I hardly know and I am crying, uncontrollable tears are running down my face. This is not a band, this is something else, the lyrics, the feeling in the room, only Chris TT had ever done this to me before from a standing start. This is everything I had hoped that The Mountain Goats were going to do to my three friends the other night and it’s happening to me. I have heard these songs once before and I know them. Like I know ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross‘. Like the back of my hand. 

This was relentless. Song after song, ‘Alabama Pines’ – you don’t have much use for a name when nobody calls it out any more, ‘Overseas’, oh my god, perfect lyrics, and ‘Elephant’, possibly the most moving performance of any song I have ever heard live. It was too much, the songs are works of art, the lyrics perfect, the guitar playing the best I have ever heard, but that is not for everyone, it is for me.

I will never go and see Jason Isbell again. This was one of the most perfect musical, and dare I say religious experiences of my life. Frankly, I came out feeling like I need counselling. Drop your prejudices about country music, go and see Jason Isbell, take tissues, lots of tissues, expect to still be thinking about it weeks later. Put ‘Elephant’ on your streaming service now and listen to it, I sure as hell am never going to again but you need to and if just one of you does my work here is done. I spend ten minutes banging on about it on my work teams call the next morning. Nobody cares. This is exactly why Jason Isbell exists. “Friends, Romans, Country Fans if you are happy and you know it then clap your hands,” – Carter USM 1993.

Find out more about Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit here

Review and photography by Jim Rhesus

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