Germantown Performing Arts Center
1/5/17 & 1/6/17
Writer/Photographer: Josh Mintz
That’s exactly how long it took for Jason Isbell to sell out the Germantown Performing Arts Center, an 864-seat venue in the Memphis suburbs. The show sold out so fast that they added a second performance the night before.
It sold out in 15 minutes.
Isbell took the stage on the first night with his wife, Amanda Shires, and immediately dove into the music. It would be cliche at this point to talk about how far Isbell has come from his Drive-By Truckers days, but that fact was magnified given the format of the evening. With 864 people seated and attentive, the acoustic show was nothing short of mesmerizing.
The set was comprised mostly of his last two albums, the ones that show a softer, gentler side of Isbell. While the album versions of all of these songs are great, seeing them performed how they were undoubtedly written was particularly powerful. Songs like “Stockholm” and “Cover Me Up” lent themselves especially well to the acoustic format.
The show had a VH1 Storytellers vibe, with Isbell spending plenty of time between tunes explaining how they were written, or telling the random story about his time living in town while attending the University of Memphis. As good a musician as Isbell is, his writing is really what makes him standout. He can spin a yarn as well as anyone making music today.
Watching Isbell on stage with Shires was especially great – the two poke fun at each other in the most adorable, married-couple-that-gets-along-too-well way, and her fiddle filled a lot of the space that the band usually occupies.
The set closed with “Elephant,” one of Isbell’s most powerful tracks from Southeastern. Isbell gave Shires room to stretch out on that one, and she added a beautiful violin solo to the track. They came out for a quick three-song encore that featured a great cover of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer.”
Overnight, a Memphis-level “snowstorm” hit the city (which means about an inch of snow and ice), closing schools and shutting down most of the town. By showtime, for the most part things had thawed out. Maybe being holed up all day brought out the rowdier side of folk, but crowd the second night was looser; there were more random drunken shout-outs than the previous night.
The set itself saw a lot of duplicates – the duo replayed 11 songs. “Streetlights,” a song Isbell wrote with the 400 Unit, made its way to the setlist and was phenomenal. He also added his song from the Truckers days, “Decoration Day,” to the setlist, to the delight of the crowd. It was especially interesting to hear “Children of Children” acoustic, as the song closes with a big guitar jam (Isbell alluded to the fact) but isn’t equipped to handle that amount of muscle when played with an acoustic guitar and a fiddle.
The fact that the two shows had a lot of similarities really didn’t matter, as it had to have been a relative few that were fortunate enough to attend both shows. Even then, when you’re witnessing a true gem, does it really matter if the set is the same?
Jason Isbell is a musician’s musician. The stories and lyrics matter as much as the music that drives them. It doesn’t matter whether he’s got a drummer and bassist behind him, or if he’s standing on stage alone with an acoustic guitar, or if it’s just him and his wife. Those fortunate enough to grab the hottest ticket to come through Memphis in years were in the presence of current music greatness, and these shows were two for the ages.
January 5, 2017
Something More Than Free, Tour of Duty, Stockholm, How to Forget, Traveling Alone, Dress Blues, Different Days, Speed Trap Town, Outfit, Alabama Pines, Cover Me Up, If It Takes a Lifetime, Elephant
E: Mutineer, Flagship, 24 Frames
January 6, 2017
Relatively Easy, If It Takes a Lifetime, Streetlights, Tour of Duty, Dress Blues, Decoration Day, Traveling Alone, The Life You Chose, Different Days, Something More Than Free, Speed Trap Town, Cover Me Up, Children of Children, 24 Frames, Pale Fire
E: Alabama Pines, The Blue, Elephant, Outfit