Last night, Jason Isbell was nearly twenty songs into his performance at the Capitol Theatre when members of the audience had to drag themselves away from the venue. It wasn't because Isbell was disappointing; his performance hadn't grown cumbersome or hit a lull in the least, and the set, which favored the bellows from 2013's transformative Southeastern with breaks for new material and old nostalgia, was hardly predictable as Isbell flew off the cuff without a predetermined setlist. The second-to-last train leaving Port Chester for Grand Central Station was pulling up just as he was rounding the bend of a powerful, stark, and present two hours onstage, and fans had two options. They could stick around to hear more — maybe a closer glimpse at Something More Than Free, his new record, as it won't be out until July 17 — and accept the fact that they were a very expensive cab ride away from home. They could wait around for the 12:18 a.m. train, maybe smoke a cigarette or few on the platform in the meantime — or they could sit on the Metro-North, marinating in the emotional aftermath of his balladry.
Nicole Fara Silver for the Village Voice Jason Isbell at the Capitol Theatre, 5/20/15
To be faced with a simple conundrum involving travel seemed appropriate and poetic, as Isbell seems to pose his most important questions and undertake his greatest soul-searching endeavors when he's in transit, reflecting on the tough stuff while moving from one place to another. See "Traveling Alone," "Super 8," and "Flying Over Water" on Southeastern, "Speed Trap Town" from Something More Than Free, and "Alabama Pines," off 2011's Here We Rest. (For further proof, simply look to his left arm, which has lyrics from Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather" inked into its flesh: "Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled/From across that lonesome ocean.") It's almost as though the decision to play venues outside of New York City limits — the Capitol in Port Chester and the Space at Waterbury in Long Island the night before — was strategic, in that it gave Isbell fans an excuse to think as the train or cab quietly cut through the stillness of the suburban night. The intricacies and intimacies of Isbell's songs meander through painful pasts, nerve-racking plane rides, and homeward-bound journeys. Mulling over those as the city drew nigh made for the perfect ending to a flawless performance from a man who turns flawed odysseys into Southern epics in four lines or less.More »