With immense talent comes immense comparisons. Whether it’s trying to find the next Michael Jordan, the next Bruce Springsteen, or the next J.K. Rowling, people seemingly rush to name a comparable.
It’s a natural tendency and one that occurs frequently in the music world as well. While roaming throughout the crowd at Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s show at the Chicago Theatre this past weekend, concertgoers exclaimed Isbell is “the next Springsteen,” “the next Bob Dylan,” and “the next great American songwriter.”
While these comparisons are apt, they’re a bit off. As Isbell proved during his show Friday night, he’s already arrived and his music speaks for itself.
The depth of Isbell’s music was on full display at the Chicago Theatre as he showed the audience the world through his point of view with his poetic and timely lyrics. While Isbell is speaking about his life and perspective with his lyrics, you get the feeling as if you’re right there beside him. This rang true as he littered the Chicago Theatre with stories of his past and his take on the world today.
Plus, Isbell’s charisma was apparent every time he stepped to the mic between songs. He told the crowd early on in the concert, “my wife Amanda is normally next to me playing the fiddle, but she’s got a show on the East Coast tonight playing her own songs. That means you’re going to hear a whole lot of guitar.”
Yeah, that was an accurate statement.
In between masterful verses, Isbell and the 400 Unit wove in beautiful rhythmic ventures in a tight manner that still contained an element of surprise. You didn’t know where it was going, but you knew it was somewhere good.
The unwillingness to confine his music to one genre is reflected in his audience as well as fans were spotted throughout the venue with Grateful Dead shirts, cowboy hats, and Bob Dylan shirts.
As Isbell concluded the evening with the track “Super 8” from his 2013 record Southeastern, I was left with a feeling only a few musicians have provided during a live performance. You felt as if you stepped into his shoes, like you were right alongside him during all of these moments in his life. It was relatable, it was something that you connected with. On top of that, the level musicianship Isbell and the 400 Unit display is completely their own and another reason why the Chicago Theatre was packed.
It’s clear why Isbell is drawing comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. He’s already left his own imprint on the music world.
Whenever his career comes to a close (and let’s hope that’s not for a long time), we’ll be trying to find out who the next Jason Isbell will be.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – 9/1/17 Chicago Theatre Set List (via setlist.fm)
Chaos and Clothes
Hope the High Road
Something More Than Free
Decoration Day (Drive-By Truckers cover)
White Man’s World
Outfit (Drive-By Truckers cover)
The Life You Chose
Speed Trap Town
Flying Over Water
Cover Me Up
Never Gonna Change (Drive-By Truckers cover)
If We Were Vampires