Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit / Amythyst Kiah @ the Factory in Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX

Words and photos by Duane Clawson
The first time I had a chance to photograph and review Jason Isbell, my opportunity was abruptly cancelled five hours prior to the show. The next time, photographers were allowed but had to remain a defined distance from the stage. This time, MTC MAG was invited to be up close and personal with Mr. Isbell and the 400 Unit. I may be wrong, but I get the feeling he is allowing us to view more of his world through more than just his songs. What I am trying to say is Jason Isbell is surviving by evolving!

Those that have heard Isbell’s story know he has had more than a colorful past. But those demons of the past have been suppressed and he currently puts all his energy into his craft. Surrounded by the skillful musicians that make up the 400 Unit. The songs will take you places that you have personally buried long ago. Sometimes the subject matter of the writing seems so simple, but every song holds a line that is pure genius.

Isbell and the 400 Unit brought their current tour to the Factory in Dallas in support of the forthcoming album, Weathervanes. A few songs from the album are seamlessly blended into the setlist. A highlight for me was the haunting, “Middle of the Morning.” I think most of the audience members were feeling this song as well, as many were assisting with vocals halfway through. As the band moves their repertoire it is so refreshing to see the Isbell crowd truly absorbing the music! A simple lighting scheme illuminates the stage but adds emphasis to all the right places.

Noticeably missing from the 400 Unit was Amanda Shires, Isbell’s wife and sometimes band member, vocalist, and fiddle player. Guitarist Sadler Vaden fills any void that may have been left by Shire’s absence as demonstrated with his powerful slide work throughout Isbell’s reminiscent, “Cover Me Up.” Before Isbell puts Sadler in the vocal spotlight and trades licks on “Honeysuckle Blue”, he interjects some humor, telling Sadler, “This is Dallas, TX, not Hollywood, don’t fuck this up."

Isbell also noted 2023 was the tenth anniversary of his breakthrough album, Southeastern. The whole spectrum of this masterpiece is covered in tonight’s performance from the sadness of “Flying Over Water” to the madness of “Super 8”, no stone is left unturned. Rounding out the night Isbell encores with a powerful statement on the human condition through “Cast Iron Skillet.” Coming full circle Isbell ends it with a song he wrote as a twenty-something year old, for his first band, Drive By Truckers, “Never Gonna Change.”

And this review would not be complete without a nod to the night’s opening band, Amythyst Kiah. This singer-songwriter from Tennessee is not what most people would expect. A Black woman that dabbles in bluegrass but can turn around and cover Tori Amos’ “Sugar” with a fresh breath of soul. Kiah and her rowdy band rip through a great version of Moby’s “Natural Blues.” A prominent music publication referred to her as, “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets.” After seeing her live I would agree with this sentiment!

Thanks to Jason Isbell’s management team for allowing MTC MAG to be in the pit and to the Factory for hosting this great show!

Photos of the show are below:

Amythyst Kiah
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Contributed by Duane Clawson
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit / Amythyst Kiah @ the Factory in Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit / Amythyst Kiah @ the Factory in Deep Ellum, Dallas, TX Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on May 11, 2023 Rating: 5
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