Monday night found me in line outside the Sinclair, a relatively new music venue here in Cambridge, along with about 100 other Jason Isbell fans hoping to get in early for a good spot. (The other however-many-hundreds of fans showed up after door time and didn’t wait in line. Amateurs!) If you’re going to a sold-out show at the Sinclair, I do recommend getting there on the early side – it’s a three-level space, and the best views are in the balcony and the front of the main floor. You don’t want to get stuck on the lower level.
I’d seen Jason Isbell once before in 2010, and while it was a good show, it was a little unsatisfying because the venue had such poor sound that I could hardly understand a word he said or sung all night. The concert at the Sinclair had excellent sound – even when I was literally leaning on one of the enormous subwoofers, the vocals and instruments were nice and clear and not muddied or obscured by bass/midbass. I really appreciate that we have a mid-size rock venue with great sound in Cambridge now!
This week’s Isbell concert was, I thought, a big improvement on the 2010 performance. I think the difference was mainly because his new songs are so good. I didn’t actually have any of his albums before this week (I buy a lot more concert tickets than CDs!) so I didn’t go in knowing any of the songs. Several friends had told me that the new album was really good, but I hadn’t gotten around to buying it yet. During the show I started jotting down notes about which songs were real standouts to me (Cover Me Up, Traveling Alone, Elephant, Different Days, Super 8, Live Oak), and it turned out that every single one of them was from his brand new album, “Southeastern.” Well, there’s no arguing with that. I had to buy the album from the merch table at the end of the show. I’m listening to it right now and it’s definitely worth a purchase.
Aside from the new tunes, he did some older ones and some Drive-by Truckers songs; they closed out the show with a four-song encore culminating in a Rolling Stones cover, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” He’ll be on tour from now until the end of October, so there’s a good chance he’ll be doing a show near you if you live in the U.S. You can see his list of tour dates here.
Here’s a live acoustic version of “Elephant”, one of my favorite songs from the concert. (Warning: Contains NSFW language and will break your heart.)
In addition to the two-hour Isbell set, we got two openers; Amanda Shires and Joe Fletcher. I have to admit up front that I have a hard time with most female singers – I don’t know why. It’s like how some people can love Bob Dylan or Tom Waits and other people think it’s crazy that anyone would even call them “singers.” People hear things differently. Unfortunately Ms. Shires isn’t on the very short list of female voices that I can really enjoy, so I didn’t love her set. She did a good job on the violin/fiddle, though.
Joe Fletcher, on the other hand, was a great surprise. I’d never heard of him (I didn’t even know he was on the bill until I got there) and I really liked him. A solid singer-songerwriter with a guitar and a bit of an Americana/country flavor. He closed his set with a great Tom Waits cover, “Bottom of the World” – I had to try pretty hard not to loudly sing along with the choruses, it’s one of my favorites and such a great singalong! Mr. Fletcher’s got a number of shows on the calendar, you can look at his website and see if he’ll be near you sometime soon. Check him out! And in the meantime you can see one of his music videos by clicking here or watch this live version of “Every Heartbroken Man”, from his 2010 album “White Lighter.”