Concert review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit spotlight sincerity at Fox Theatre show

After strapping on his Flying-V guitar and tearing through “Go It Alone,” Jason Isbell looked at his band, the 400 Unit, then back at the audience and smiled.

“I think we opened up a show at The Earl with that song. We possibly opened a show at Smith’s Olde Bar with that song,” he said.

Yes, even though Isbell is Alabama born and a Nashville resident, his Georgia roots run deep thanks to his years with the Drive-By Truckers. He’s never lost his affinity for Atlanta , and especially, the Atlanta Braves.

Jason Isbell hasn’t lost his affinity for Atlanta. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

That comfort level was obvious on Thursday night, as the laid-back musician and his five-piece outfit played the first of a two-night stand at the Fox Theatre.

Large signs in the lobby stated Isbell’s request to refrain from taking photo or video during the show, but of course there were plenty of those to whom the rules never apply.

Close to 4,000 people filled the venue (Friday’s show has a few seats available) and sang along worshipfully as Isbell plowed through the majority of his latest album, “The Nashville Sound,” which, along with the track “If We Were Vampires,” scored a couple of Grammy Awards last month.

Backstage at that ceremony , a humble Isbell talked about Gregg Allman, whose posthumous release his work defeated, and the influence of the Allman Brothers Band.

Even though Isbell’s music leans toward Americana and alt-country, there are shades of those storied Southern rockers in the buzzing slide guitar Isbell unleashed on “Hope the High Road” and the open-hearted declaration, “Something More Than Free.”

He generously introduced the band throughout the duration of the concert, and the contributions of Derry Deborja (keyboards, accordion), Chad Gamble (drums), Jimbo Hart (bass), Sadler Varden (guitar) and Amanda Shires (vocals, fiddle, wife of Isbell) cannot be overstated.

Amanda Shires, fiddler, singer and Isbell’s wife, is a key part of the 400 Unit. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /

Shires, in particular, brought not only a visual pop in her sequined top and vibrant ankle boots – a contrast to the Man in Black attire surrounding her – but her harmony vocals, particularly on “Hope the High Road” and the melodically lustrous “Alabama Pines” are vital to the 400 Unit sound.

Isbell’s voice veers from country-tinged grit (“Codeine”) to unquestionably pretty (“24 Frames”) and he delivered material ranging from the bracing, incisive “White Man’s World” to the racing rocker “Cumberland Gap” with deeply felt emotion.

The band’s staging was simple, yet effective, with a glowing insignia of an anchor and bird hanging behind the musicians and a light show that sufficed more than any props.

As the reflective acoustic ballad “Last of My Kind” escalated into a full-throated musical statement, the lights swelled brighter with every guitar run and fiddle breakdown from Shires. Conversely, during the heartbreaking “Elephant,” Shires, Isbell and Deborja were shrouded in a fog of white lights, a fitting visual for the song.

Whether swinging through the accordion-laced dance groove of “Codeine” or turning more pensive on “Chaos and Clothes,” Isbell’s sincerity never wavered.

Opening the show was James McMurtry, the shaggy roots rocker who has maintained a steady career since the late-‘80s.

His 40-minute set included “Childish Things” and “Copper Canteen,” his vivid lyrics conveyed in a trademark direct, almost expressionless style.

McMurtry’s three-piece grizzled band offered sharp musicianship throughout, and McMurtry brought his own chiming guitar groove to “For All I Know” and “Ain’t Got a Place,” which shimmered with a veneer of New Orleans-styled soul.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (with James McMurtry opening) play the Fox Theatre again at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9. Tickets are $47.70 – $97.75.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Hugh Grant pays tribute to former 'Notting Hill' co-star Emma Chambers
Hugh Grant pays tribute to former 'Notting Hill' co-star Emma Chambers

Actor Hugh Grant took to Twitter to mourn his “Notting Hill” co-star Emma Chambers, who died Wednesday at the age of 53. “Emma Chambers was a hilarious and very warm person and of course a brilliant actress,” wrote Grant, who played the brother to Chambers’ character in “Notting Hill.” “Very sad news...
George Harrison would have been 75 Sunday
George Harrison would have been 75 Sunday

The youngest Beatle would have been 75 Sunday. George Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles and also had a successful solo career. He was born Feb. 25, 1943, in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Harrison was the second member of the band to die, when he passed away on Nov. 29, 2001, in Los Angeles. Harrison’s official Twitter account marked...
‘Notting Hill’ actress Emma Chambers dead at 53
‘Notting Hill’ actress Emma Chambers dead at 53

Actress Emma Chambers, who played Hugh Grant’s younger sister in the 1999 movie “Notting Hill,” died Wednesday, her agent told CNN. She was 53. Her agent, John Grant, said Chambers died of natural causes. The British actress is survived by her husband, actor Ian Dunn. “Over the years, Emma, created a wealth of characters...
Bravo bringing back Kim Zolciak’s ‘Don’t Be Tardy’ for a seventh season
Bravo bringing back Kim Zolciak’s ‘Don’t Be Tardy’ for a seventh season

Posted Sunday, February 25, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Kim Zolciak’s time on Bravo will pass a decade soon. The seventh season of her show “Don’t Be Tardy” has begun production in Atlanta, according to the Georgia Film & TV office. Zolciak joined &ldquo...
WATCH: 'Frozen' Broadway musical debuts new song for Elsa
WATCH: 'Frozen' Broadway musical debuts new song for Elsa

Just when you got “Let It Go” out of your head, there’s a new “Frozen” song to check out. Mashable reported that “Monster,” the first original song from the “Frozen” Broadway musical, was released on Friday, along with a music video featuring Caissie Levy, who’ll play Elsa on stage...
More Stories