Jason Isbell's star is on the rise. His new album Something More Than Free had the highest debut of his career on the charts this week and the follow-up to his 2013 breakout solo album Southeastern continues to gather critical acclaim. On the cusp of superstardom (that he so deserves), on Friday night (July 24), the country champion took on Brooklyn's Prospect Park as a part of BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series.
The night was themed around celebrated songwriters, and to help establish that thread, Brooklyn by way of Louisville's Dawn Landes opened the night. Cheerfully playing just blocks away from her own apartment in the city, Landes' smiley energy was palpable, as she brought the sunny yet introspective music as the actual sun set on the idyllic summer night.
Though the crowd had yet to fully form during her set, Landes' breezy energy, clear voice and charm was enough to win those who came early to the show over. A true set highlight was her anecdote about coming second place in a Dolly Parton song contest and eventually meeting the second place winner of a lumberjack contest in the same small town. From there, Landes launched into the Parton classic "Longer Than Always" with some help from the crowd and a big nod of her head.
As the sun set and the temperatures slightly dipped in the park, it was time for Isbell to take the stage, with little fanfare and a mountain of talent. From the get go, Isbell was there to roll out new material from Something More Than Free, which had dropped just one week earlier. He opened with the album's roaring penultimate track "Palmetto Rose," and the driving rock and major tempo dips helped to electrify the audience with the power of good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll.
For his third song, Isbell continued to show just how powerful his new album is, despite his happier place in life (with a substance-free lifestyle, new wife and baby daughter on the way). "24 Frames," the lead single from Something More Than Free, has a sweet simplicity surrounding it, and in the live setting Isbell gave the song added energy.
A video posted by Carolyn Menyes (@athousandmph) on Jul 24, 2015 at 6:05pm PDT
Despite a new album in his discography, Friday night's concert played out like a career-spanning best-of for Isbell, who shared everything from anthems from his time in Drive-By Truckers to songs with The 400 Unit to his celebrated solo material.
Though Isbell has gone through distinctive career phases, the music blended together seamlessly. His Drive-By Truckers singles "Decoration Day" and "Outfit" worked in seamlessly with Isbell's older cuts like "Codeine" and Southeastern singles "Different Days" and "Stockholm."
A true set highlight came as no surprise, since it's a highlight in both his discography and the modern Americana landscape. Introducing the song as written for his wife, Amanda Shires (who just left the tour because she's "heavily pregnant and they won't let her travel") Isbell launched into the Southeastern track "Cover Me Up" two-thirds of the way through his set. He began the song quietly, with just his own hand on the acoustic guitar and his powerful vocals cutting through the trees that surrounded the stage. Slowly, the bass joined in and the drums, and the song came to a powerful crescendo. By the end of the track, it was hard to find a dry eye among the crowd.
That's not to say the night wasn't without a few technical flaws. Isbell's guitar went out of tune during "Speed Trap Town" and the volume on the drums was, at times, a little unbalanced. But, despite these hiccups, Isbell and his 400 Unit delivered until the final notes of "Super 8" in the encore finished resonating.
Jason Isbell Setlist, Celebrate Brooklyn!, July 24:
The Life You Chose
Speed Trap Town
Cover Me Up
Children of Children
Something More Than Free
Never Gonna Change