While most concert experiences can act as comfort food, satisfying people’s basic cravings for some bright lights, guitar solos and singalongs, some strike a deeply personal and artistic chord that makes one remember how special live shows can be. Sunday night at the Grand Sierra Resort, Dawes and Jason Isbell put on one such transcendent concert.
Music lovers look back at show bills from the 1960s and 1970s and see bands such as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band or Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper playing together and are awestruck at such influential groups in their prime. The pairing of Isbell and Dawes is certainly one such pairing that people will look back on and wish they were there. Both bands are a rich blend of stunning lyricism and top-notch musicianship that retain a craftsman-like essence to their music that one can only marvel at.
Each band was touring behind a new album, Dawes’ “All Your Favorite Bands” and Isbell’s “Something More Than Free,” and both showed how well the new batch of songs fit in with the rest of their lexicon.
Los Angeles’ Dawes was first to take the stage and it churned out a fantastic, riveting version of “I Can’t Think About It Now” from its latest album to open the show. The whole band fell into a middle jam that saw its peak in the form of a passionate Duane Betts guitar solo that beautifully wove through the warm, cruising melody. Betts, son of Allman Brother guitarist Dickey Betts, is a new addition to the touring band and added another dynamic musical voice to a band already chock-full of them, especially as a fine counterweight to frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s in-the-pocket guitar playing on songs like “Time Spent In Los Angeles” and “Somewhere Along The Way.”
The essence of Dawes’ show was how in-the-moment and personal it made its songs feel. Goldsmith pumped around the stage adding small guitar inflections and vocal phrasings like new spices to his songs, and his drumming brother Griffin Goldsmith, who looked like a folkie Animal from The Muppets behind his set, accented his strikes and fills with immediacy and attention to the rest of the band’s intensity. Taylor’s heartfelt delivery on “Little Bit Everything” made it feel fresh and personal, like one was hearing the classic ballad in a new light, and the band spilled itself into the surging “When My Time Comes” with passionate abandon.
Isbell and his band The 400 Unit graced the stage next and delivered a complex set that hit upon all the different aspects of Isbell’s stellar songwriting. The country-folk artist tells stories better than most people and dropped people right in the scene of a husband’s reflections on the touching acoustic ballad “Those Were Different Days” and into a bloodthirsty family rivalry with the searing “Decoration Day,” written during his time with The Drive-By Truckers.
Isbell and his crack outfit played skill and dexterity that was able to enhance the emotional core of the songs. “If It Takes a Lifetime” skipped to a country rhythm and “Palmetto Rose” was spiked with pride and passion that got a lot of hollering from the crowd. The apex of the show was a sweeping musical suite of Isbell’s crippling “Cover Me Up” of his breakthrough album “Southeastern,” followed by “Children of Children” of his latest album.
Isbell’s intense delivery on “Cover Me Up,” written about his battle to get sober, made his wounds still feel fresh and his band added gravity to the normally acoustic ballad with washes of electric guitar and primal drums. “Children of Children” paid homage to Isbell’s mother and her young maternity and the band swelled with energy through the verses and chorus before dropping out into a soaring coda of electric guitars and crashing drums, Isbell providing his most fervent solo of the show. The two songs summed up what Isbell can do best, which is placing you in the moment of a song and making you feel the energy and emotions that flow through it lyrics. Last night, Isbell and the 400 Unit’s take on “Cover Me Up” and “Children of Children” took many people’s breath away.
Sunday night’s show was special and unique and showcased two bands that have the highest form of musical integrity playing today.
- Jason Isbell and Dawes
Grand Sierra Resort, Aug. 8
“I Can’t Think About It Now”
“Time Spent In Los Angeles”
“Little Bit of Everything”
“Somewhere Along The Way”
“When My Time Comes”
“All Your Favorite Bands”
- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
“Those Were Different Days”
“The Life You Choose”
“Speed Trap Town”
“If It Takes a Lifetime”
“Cover Me Up”
“Children of Children”
“Flying Over Water”
“Something More Than Free”
“Never Gonna Change”