Jason Isbell is in the middle of quite possibly his busiest year to date. Between his HBO documentary, political activism, album recording, and now tour with his band, The 400 Unit, the country rocker has no intention of slowing down. And with the sheer admiration and support from his fanbase, he won’t have to.
As proof, Tempe’s Marquee Theatre was packed on a Tuesday night to witness Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit return to the stage, out on a cross-country run to promote new album Weathervanes. Joining them is Deer Tick, an established name in their own right, and the entire tour was welcomed with open arms and an appreciative spirit.
Deer Tick was happy to be back in Arizona in particular, they said. The east coast four-piece is known for their rowdy shows, and it’s vocalist John J. McCauley leading the circus with his fun-loving personality that shines through on stage. That’s not to say the rest weren’t having a good time — drummer Dennis Ryan introduced “Me and My Man” with the quip, “This song was written by my dog.”
The band shared smiles over their instruments as they charged through tracks from new release Emotional Contracts and a cover of “I Got a Rocket in my Pocket,” each song sounding better than the last.
“I’ve never seen a bad Deer Tick show,” Jason Isbell mused later during his set, “and I’ve seen a lot of Deer Tick shows over the years.” It’s this type of genuine recognition that makes him respected by his fans and contemporaries beyond his musical prowess — which was on full display on Tuesday night.
Weathervanes, the project from which the group drew at least half the setlist, is an album of callouts that hits hard on the issues that plague the country: school shootings, a corrupt medical system, racism, and more. And on stage, Isbell and his band threw their full weight into each song so the whole room could feel the frustration and conviction.
From “King of Oklahoma” to “Last of My Kind” to “Cover Me Up” from Isbell’s solo work, the set captivated the chill-but-still-engaged audience. (Case in point, there were more kids than visible phones.) They held on every word, stayed quiet per Isbell’s request as venue staff attended to an incident, and they probably would have marched into battle had he asked.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit capped off the night with a three-song encore, and fans immediately took to the internet to gush about the performance. Can’t say we blame them.
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Story and photos by Taylor Knauf