The Spin: Jason Isbell @ Mercy Lounge



Jason Isbell. Photos by Steve Cross.

The Spin is getting restless in our old age. We enjoy shows that start and finish on time with little deviation from standard live performance norms. Thursday night’s bill showed a 9 p.m. start time, which any avid concertgoer should interpret as 9:35 p.m. or later.


Evening opener (thankfully there was only one) Jessica Lee Mayfield—adorned with grey dress, red spandex, nose ring and acoustic guitar—had indie flare, but did her best to present country. Aside from her brother’s standup bass-gymnastics and stage antics, Mayfield’s vocals were hit-or-miss, ultimately derailing her performance.


Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit (insert new band moniker here) took the stage on time, following an extremely brief stage set up. Adidas shoes must sponsor Isbell & Co., because most if not all band members were sporting different pairs. Audience members meandered to the stage front, hugging the monitors in attempts to engage Isbell, while others were just there to ogle. Drive-By Truckers fans were ever-present, evident through the united-group sing-alongs on tunes such as “Goddamn Lonely Love,” “Danko/Manuel” and “Never Gonna Change.”


Isbell dipped deep into his 2007 release Sirens of the Ditch, performing rousing versions of “Grown,” the mystically ominous “Chicago Promenade,” “Razor Town” and “The Magician.” Prefacing the set Isbell remarked, “I’m in a funny mood tonight. There’s no knowing what we might play.” He stayed true to his word inserting multiple covers songs into the night’s performance. Among the highlights were the Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer,” Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” and the Rolling Stone’s “Sway.” Isbell did well to infuse his rockabilly roots into each cover, making them his own.


The only real drawback to Isbell’s performance was jamming. The band allocated too much time to showcasing Isbell’s guitar playing abilities—we assumed he was making up lost time in Mike Cooley’s shadow. Nevertheless, Isbell has done well for himself gathering an eager and willing enough fan base to stick it out for two sets.

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