I’m sorry, Canada, but I had to leave you on your birthday. I know that’s a real douchebag thing to do, but it had to be done. I was looking for something important, something that, honestly, you’ve been missing for a while now. I don’t mean to hurt you, baby, but it’s true. Sometimes things just kind of slip a little bit, and you lose sight of them. Sometimes you have to be reminded of what it was that helped you to fall in love in the first place, so you can build up your relationship again. I’m not saying that things have to be the way they were, and you certainly don’t have to try to be like someone else; that ain’t what I’m sayin’. It’s just that I’ve been reminded of something that we once had, and I’m hoping that the spark still lives, and that we can work on strengthening what we have, because I know it’s wonderful.
What? I am getting to the point, baby. I’m sorry. I know you don’t like the long pre-amble, it sounds like I’m making excuses. It’s not that, I just like to be understood, although it happens so rarely. I’m just explaining my motivation. No, I’m not trying to change the subject.
Huh? Oh, yeah, what I was looking for.
Rock and fucking roll.
Sometimes you gotta take a road trip. There are good shows at home, sure, but somehow, when you work really hard to be at a show, spend lots of money and do stupid things, like driving home through the night, you get a better experience out of it. Such was the case with the show by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit in Fargo, ND, on July 1. I knew it was going to be good, why else would I go, but I guess I had no idea just how amazing it could be.
The venue was dark. Small. Not the kind of place where you really want to touch anything, if you can help it. It was also a Sunday night, and in Fargo, so nobody was there. Well, more showed up when the headliners took the stage, but during the opening band, there must have been about 30 people. I’ve had more people in my living room. That band was decent. Jaine liked ’em. Me, not so much. I’ve got nothing against them, and if they’re reading this, I hope they’re not offended, but nothing really stood out other than the cellist as a major player, which was interesting. The piano was too loud; kind of annoying, actually. Stopping to talk about the setlist as they went – not really that cool. Yeah, it could make the show more creative, but it just made you look unprepared.
Isbell didn’t need no damn setlist. I have no idea how the 4 guys on stage communicated what was next. Some kind of telepathy I guess, that can only come from having played night after night after sweaty night in dark, smelly bars like that. Isbell’s seen and done it all, I’m sure, when he rose up from the Dirty South with The Drive-By Truckers. He learned about gritty rock and roll in that band, I’m sure, and built a name for himself. I’m sure there was some fear for the future when he and his wife split, and he had to leave that band and go it alone. Nothing to worry about, because he’s got the goods.
A four piece band, Isbell, backed by 3 of the strongest players & singers I’ve seen, tore through a set of songs spanning his career, and musical upbringing. In addition to the stellar songs off of his solo records (including much of the fantastic latest album, “Here We Rest.” My favourites are Alabama Pines and Codeine. Dude did ’em both!), he played a whole bunch of his Drive-By Truckers songs. He didn’t do “Easy on Yourself,” sure, but that probably would have set the crowd into overdrive, and some of them were nearing that point already. He did do Decoration Day and Outfit. God I love those. I thought I’d die when the drums started that slow, pounding intro to Danko/Manuel.
It was the covers that really set me flying: Stone Free was cool, I’ve heard lots of bands do Like a Hurricane, but that was by far my favourite (sorry, Neil); ending off with American Girl? Wow. Even Frank Turner’s version at The Folk Fest Store on Record Store Day can’t touch it.
Back to that crowd. There were some pretty rowdy and annoying loogans there. OK, maybe just that one – waving his arms and screaming at the top of his lungs right at the front of the stage. His pants always dangerously close to falling right down, somehow defying the laws of gravity and keeping from dropping to his ankles. I guess the most annoying part was the regular high-fives he dished out to everybody around, including to me. Later on, he resorted to hugs; luckily, I missed out on that. The folks that we stood the closest to and chatted with most (and bummed a Sharpie from) turned out to be from Winnipeg. Wish I’d known that there. The things you learn later on from Facebook.
It was a hell of a long drive home. Smarter people might have stayed the night, but smarter people ain’t so broke. I forgot my camera. Didn’t bring my own Sharpie (T-Bar would be so disappointed.) I don’t really know all of Isbell’s songs well enough to keep a proper set list. I’ll listen more, closely, after the post-show listening moratorium has passed, and I’ll hope that someone posts a proper set list online. But I do know that it was worth it.
I found the spirit of Rock N’ Roll.
On Canada Day.