April 17, 2016
Brookly Bowl, London
When Jason Isbell performed in London in January, the touts were out in force, the theatre was packed and the performance was epic. Given the growing popularity of Americana, it seemed only a matter of time before Isbell was headlining arenas. So, when a show at the O2 Arena was announced just months later, the only surprise was that it would be at the intimate Brooklyn Bowl venue rather than the main stage.
Once again, The 400 Unit ably accompanied Isbell’s effortless guitar flourishes and vocals. Together, they were versatile enough to cross genres with ease, from the blues infused Palmetto Rose and Codeine, via the country sound of The Life You Chose and Lifetime, to the joyous Southern rock of Super Eight and You’re Never Gonna Change.
Back in 2014, Jason Isbell was a quiet presence as a background musician for wife Amanda Shires‘ London performance. This time Shires returned the favour, a mesmerising and serene addition to the line-up. At times, her fiddle and vocals seemed too low in the mix, which was a shame as the plaintive notes were notable in tender night song Traveling Alone and the heartbreaking Elephant.
During his recent acoustic show at St Pancras Old Church, The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon thanked Isbell for fingerpicking guidance. Here’s hoping he tales a tip from Fallon in return, as a London church show with Isbell and Shires co-headlining would be truly divine.
In black leather and black lace, The Rails looked rock ‘n’ roll and sounded folk.
Trad heritage was hinted at when they delivered a stomping rendition of eighteenth century ballad William Taylor, and confirmed when James Walbourne referred to wife Kami Thompson’s “folk family” (her parents are genre stalwarts Linda and Richard Thompson, Teddy Thompson is her brother).
Walbourne has his own share of musical background, having backed up The Pogues, The Pretenders and Ray Davies. The Island Records duo were at their best when they combined the folk, rock and blues influences. Walbourne’s guitar work in Dark Times generated spontaneous applause amidst a surprisingly sweet song about addiction and co-dependence.
Undoubted set highlight was Panic Attack Blues, inspired by drinking with Shane MacGowan. It was only added to the set once the previous song was rearranged then abandoned in fine folk tradition: “it’s not a mistake, it’s authentic!”
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