Live: Jason Isbell Channels Bruce Hornsby at Bowery Ballroom


Mr. Isbell in L.A. awhile back. CREDIT.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Bowery Ballroom
Thurday, February 26

Next time your album needs an epic, weeping, piano-driven, slow-burn, blowout-ballad closing number, look this dude up. Late of the Drive-By Truckers (Father’s Day tear-jerker “Outfit,” off 2003’s Decoration Day, is a highlight for man and band both), Isbell is onto his second solo album, his Alabama twang and general air of Southern-rock insouciance intact, but with a major jones for, well, epic, weeping, piano-driven, slow-burn, blowout-ballad closing numbers. Tonight he unloads, like, 15 of ’em, each one patiently driving home its simple melody/progression/idea, and what’s initially plodding eventually becomes grudgingly sort of transcendent — “Chicago Promenade” is top-shelf Bruce Hornsby shit, “Mandolin Rain” for a venue (a town, really) not much inclined toward mandolins.

He’s an extraordinarily likable dude, whether he’s gushing about his time here in NYC (“We had good weather and got a lot of drinkin’ done”) or inviting up a horn section for a couple tunes I really wish weren’t as boring as they were. When he cranks up the tempo and the ferocity a bit, the results are great — “Good,” off the new Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, is damn near a power-pop barn-burner — but patience and virtue eventually gets him over: Our highlight tonight is one of his DBT tunes, “Danko/Manuel,” simple and insistent and quietly, slowly, subtly dramatic. In lieu of an encore there’s two bifurcated sets separated by “a ten-minute break to buy some liquor.”

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