Monday, April 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Fridays

The music posts have been far and few between, so lets make up for lost time with a double shot live review from two shows we enjoyed catching the past two Fridays.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
Justin Townes Earle

The Independent
San Francisco, CA

Almost anything would have been better than the previous Jason Isbell show we caught in 2007 at Slims. Jason had decided to battle his flu onstage with copious amounts of Jack Daniels and the flu won about 50 minutes into the set, forcing the band to play an instrumental and call it a night.

Tonight, after filling our bellies with delicious Little Star pizza and ale, we strolled down the street to The Independent to catch a great double bill: Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

First up was Justin Townes Earle, son of country rocker Steve Earle but very much his own musician without navigating dad's shadow. Where the elder Earle mixes politics against a backdrop of country rock, the younger Earle embraces the old school Nashville artist mold with his brand of country-infused folk. Like Ryan Bingham, Earle's road weary narratives and characters defy their writer's youthful age and reveal a serious and unique artist emerging in the public eye .

Taking the stage with an acoustic guitar and mandolin/harp/banjo player Cory Younts, Earle played a high energy and mesmerizing set of songs from his latest album Midnight at the Movies, as well as songs from his previous album The Good Life. With rapid fire clips of humorous between song banter, Earle kept the energy of his set high, allowing folks like yours truly to enjoy his set without knowing a single song.

Justin Townes Earle plays like a musician from a by-gone era of country music. Kenny Chesney this ain't. Check him out, you will not be disappointed.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit wasted little time in taking the stage after Earle's set, launching into the percussive goodness of "Seven Mile Island" off their new album. Where the Isbell from last year seemed to be navigating the pensive rivers of leading a new band of backing musicians, Isbell tonight commanded a calm cool as he and the road seasoned 400 Unit were in fact just that- a band of brothers united in kicking our musical asses.

The band played a well balanced set. New material sounded grittier and expansive live - "Cigarettes and Wine" and "Soldier Get Strange" were highlights, and a cork ripping cover of Talking Head's "Pyscho Killer (complete with 400 unit guitarist Browan Lollar belting the lead vocals)" got the crowd going. DBT-era Isbell also appeared in several forms: a haunting rendition of "Danko/Manuel", a defiant "Never Gonna Change" and a set ending guitar-epic "Decoration Day".

And while this music freak would have preferred more cuts off the new album, Isbell and the 400 Unit left everyone walking out of The Independent with a smile on their face, and that's the goal of a Friday night rock show, right?

Seven-Mile Island
Chicago Promenade
Never Gonna Change
Goddamn Lonely Love
Soldiers Get Strange >
Dress Blues
The Assassin
Cigarettes and Wine
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads Cover)
The Last Song I Will Write


Sway (Rolling Stones Cover)
Decoration Day

Gary Louris & Mark Olson
The Crepe Place
Santa Cruz, CA

As a week's worth of rain storms, mother nature's departing gift of cold air and winds couldn't deter fans of reunited songwriting partners Gary Louris and Mark Oslon (The Jayhawks) from enjoying an evening of acoustic guitars and soaring harmonies in the intimate backyard setting of The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz, CA.

I'm going to be honest. It was freaking cold (54 F), and aside from wisely procuring Baileys and coffee from the bar, the only thing keeping us planted in our seats was the soul warming vocal harmonies of Louris and Olson. These guys could melt butter with their vocals and the mix of songs from their new album Ready for the Flood and the Jayhawk's back catalog gave everyone in attendance a reason to brave the elements.

When listening to the duo play a song like "Turn Your Pretty Name Around" or "The Rose Society" one could close their eyes and imagine watching some 60s folk duo performing to a packed NYC coffee house back in day. Newer songs like "Bicycle" and "Chamberlain, SD" balanced out the slower numbers (hell it was an acoustic show, all the songs were moderately paced)

While Gary Louris stuck to updating the crowd on all things surrounding The Jayhawks (album reissues, box set) Mark Olson was the MC of the evening, ribbing folks in the audience and making several weather-related comments.

Despite the weather, the music won out as it should. Here's hoping this reunited musical collaboration between Louris and Olson continues to bear fruit.


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