Alabama troubadour Jason Isbell and an Amanda Shires-less 400 Unit lit up the tiny Pollak Theater on the campus of scenic Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ. It's a campus that I’ll always remember as being the home of Daddy Warbucks’ mansion, where they filmed the movieAnnie, not to mention a stone’s throw from the bungalow where Springsteen lived while scribing the masterpiece that would ultimately become Born To Run. But, enough of my brief history lesson.
Isbell laid it on thick last night, keeping the mature crowd glued to their seats in true listening room fashion. Always a nice juxtaposition to beer and whisky soaked barrooms amongst the hollering and jostling for decent floor real estate, though I’ll never be able to decide which I prefer.
The band was tight as always, with Sadler Vaden on lead guitar, pulling off flawless Duane Allman-esque slide solos, trading off with Isbell for most of the night, bottleneck slide or otherwise. One of the tightest rythym sections in the touring music industry, Chad Gamble on the drum throne and Jimbo Hart on the bass guitar, laid down that custom 400 Unit foundation for the great Derry DeBorja to build upon, with just about any instrument with keys -- most memorable was his accordion work on this night.
The setlist, a perfect mixtape of songs from all Isbell’s solo records, dipped heavy into his latest, 2014’s Southeastern, and of course the Drive-By Trucker gems everyone can’t wait to see. He delivered a rising version of “Outfit”, lonesome heart-tugging display on “Alabama Pines”, and a damn near Grateful Dead hat tip offering of my personal favorite “Danko/Manuel”, complete with an extended dual guitar sonic exploration and DeBorja getting “spacy” on the Nord keyboard. Central Jersey won last night, in immaculate live music fashion. (+words: sz+)