Jason Isbell's been deservedly recognized as one of the 21st century's finest singer/songwriters, but the 400 Unit deserve just as much credit as a fiery live band, and after 16 months off the road due to COVID lockdown, they reminded us of this across two shows at NYC's Rooftop at Pier 17 over the weekend: Friday (9/24) and Saturday (9/25). The outdoor rooftop venue was a gorgeous setting for Jason's warm, organic sound, and it was his first time playing there but not his first time attending. He told a story on both nights about how he took his daughter there to see Billie Eilish in 2019. (At the Friday night show, Billie was simultaneously playing NYC herself.)

Both nights relied heavily on 2020's great Reunions, but Jason mixed the setlists up enough that you could go both nights and not feel like you're seeing the same exact show twice, and the 400 Unit put on the kind of living, breathing performance that lends itself to repeat attendance. They're not a jam band, but they have that jam-friendly feel where you never entirely know what to expect, and where the band really functions as a unit with different moving parts that come together to create something bigger than the sum of their parts. I went Saturday, and I left wishing I'd gone both nights.

On Saturday, he opened up with "Overseas," setting the bar high right off the bat. It's one of Reunions' many highlights, and Jason made that lead guitar riff sing even more than he does on the album. From there, the band brought things back to 2015 with two songs from Something More Than Free, "24 Frames" and the title track, the former of which made for even more of Jason's singing lead guitar. As the show went on, Jason kept mixing it up between Reunions songs and older faves (including a couple Drive-By Truckers songs), and it really felt like a greatest hits set. With even Reunions being over a year old at this point, every song felt like a classic, whether it was a new one or a time-tested fan fave like "Cover Me Up" or "Alabama Pines" or "Outfit." The show was a reminder that Jason is such a powerful songwriter, and every song felt as monumental as the last.

Jason's also great at interpreting other people's songs, and both nights found him playing his newly-released cover of R.E.M.'s "Driver 8" off his upcoming Georgia charity covers album, which will benefit Black Voters Matter, Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight, and Georgia STAND-UP. (When he mentioned the album and its purpose on stage, he was met by one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night.) As on the studio version, Jason really made "Driver 8" sound like his own. That was the only cover on Friday, but Saturday ended with The Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" in honor of the late Charlie Watts. I had watched some of the fan-shot videos of the Stones covers Jason's been doing on tour since Charlie's death last month, but seeing it in person was even better. Jason and Sadler Vaden traded guitar solos in place of the original's sax solos, and watching them shred their hearts out was a perfect note for the show to go out on.

I caught the tail-end of opener Joy Oladokun's set and thought she sounded great too, and Jason mentioned on stage that the two of them recently worked on something together in the studio, so stay tuned for that.

The pictures in this post (by Amanda Hatfield) are from the Friday show, and those continue below. The setlists from both nights and a few videos below as well...

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit @ The Rooftop at Pier 17 - 9/24/21 Setlist (via)
What've I Done to Help
24 Frames
Overseas
Letting You Go
Super 8
Dreamsicle
Be Afraid
Hope the High Road
It Gets Easier
Only Children
Driver 8 (R.E.M. cover)
Last of My Kind
If We Were Vampires
Stockholm
Flying Over Water
Cover Me Up

Encore:
Tour of Duty
Decoration Day (Drive-By Truckers song)

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit @ The Rooftop at Pier 17 - 9/25/21 Setlist (via)
Overseas
24 Frames
Something More Than Free
Be Afraid
Hope the High Road
Elephant
Alabama Pines
St. Peter's Autograph
Only Children
Outfit (Drive-By Truckers song)
If We Were Vampires
Driver 8 (R.E.M. cover)
Last of My Kind
What've I Done to Help
Never Gonna Change (Drive-By Truckers song)
Cover Me Up

Encore:
Speed Trap Town
Can't You Hear Me Knocking (The Rolling Stones cover)