Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit / Kathleen Edwards
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, BC
March 5, 2023
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have announced a new album, Weathervanes, the followup to 2020’s Reunions and 2021’s Georgia Blue. The group released their single, Death Wish, a week ahead of their Vancouver show. The Western leg of the Canadian tour included stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, and Victoria with Kathleen Edwards as support.
Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit, is primarily made up of musicians from the Muscle Shoals area with Sadler Vaden, (guitar, backup vocals) – formerly of Drivin’ N Cryin’, Jimbo Hart, (bass), Derry DeBorja, (piano, organ, synths, keyboard) – formerly of Son Volt, and Chad Gamble (drums), and part-time member Amanda Shires (fiddle) who was not on stage on this night.
On election day 2020, when Isbell saw that there was a good chance the state of Georgia might go blue, he came up with the idea to record an album of Georgia-related songs as a thank you to the state and donate the money to a Georgia based non-profit organization. For years, Isbell had been looking for an excuse to record these songs with his band and some friends. Sadler Vaden had recorded Honeysuckle Blue when he was a member of Drivin’ N Cryin’ and so Isbell told the audience “he’s going to sing it for us now”.
Jason Isbell then talked about David Crosby who appeared on Reunions. “It was sad that we had to put it out in the middle of a lockdown and a pandemic … and couldn’t go out and tour. During this trying period, we developed a really good friendship with David Crosby. Great songwriter, singer. Legendary hippie. Son of a bitch. And I love him very much. He came down to Nashville and sang on a couple of songs on Reunions with us.”
“Something that I’ll never forget, standing there with my friends and my wife and David all around a microphone, singing a song that I had written. It was a very special feeling for me. And we lost David recently and we’ve been doing these songs in his honour now.”
Jason then sang Only Children with some nice harmonies from the rest of the band.
The 1 hour 45 min show concluded with 2017’s If We Were Vampires from The Nashville Sound album and Oh Well, the 1969 driving blues rock number from the Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac.
* * *
Kathleen Edwards returned to the recording studio during the pandemic, releasing her fifth full-length album, Total Freedom, in 2020, her first album in eight years. I was excited knowing that Kathleen was to open for John Prine at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on June 6, 2020, a show that had been re-scheduled for the second time due to health issues with John Prine. Sadly, this show was cancelled when Prine died of COVID-19 complications. Jason Isbell’s show was also a re-scheduled show due to the pandemic (initial show was July 20, 2020 with Shawn Colvin).
The last time I saw Kathleen Edwards perform was when she did a three-night residency (April 20, April 27, May 4) at the Drake Underground in Toronto in 2010. I was at the first show.
How exciting it was to finally see Kathleen Edwards again after 12 years. She opened the show with Options Open from Total Freedom. It was after One More Song The Radio Won’t Like that Kathleen told the audience “Nice seeing you, Vancouver. You guys excited for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit? I quit music some time ago,” explaining that she had opened and ran a coffee shop named Quitters for 8 years. “During the time that I had my coffee shop, it was a really great experience to walk away from music. I was telling my friend Suzie (Ungerleider) today it really gave me a break from this sort of music being this thing that I just was so micro focused on all the time.” When she returned to music and started writing again, she jokingly talked about two terrible mistakes she had made. The first mistake was that she put out her big comeback record in 2020 and the second mistake was naming it Total Freedom. “Those were two terrible mistakes.” Laughter and applause erupted when Edwards told us that she had a “fuckin’ load of t-shirts made that said Total Freedom on them,” continuing “and I live in Ottawa. So you can imagine how popular those were.” (referring to the Freedom Convoy occupation in Ottawa in January 2022). She expressed that the next best thing she ever did was come back to music. “This one is the song that starts the record off. It’s about this guy over here, Colin Cripps, who plays with me. Who, incredibly, he used to be married to me. And look at us now.”
Goodnight, California was seven minutes of Crazy Horse-like excellence with Kathleen starting on violin before switching to the electric guitar at midpoint. The musicianship of Colin Cripps (lead guitar), Aaron Goldstein (pedal steel), Ryan Gavel (bass), and Peter Von Althen (drums) was fantastic.
The 45-minute set included Six O’clock News , the opening track from Kathleen Edwards’ 2003 debut, Failer. Kathleen reminisced of the times she played in Vancouver. “I played this town for the first time about 23 years ago at the Railway Club.” and continuing “I’ll never forget the time I opened for Willie Nelson at GM Place. And you know it’s a pretty spooky thing opening for Willie Nelson. And there was this fuckin’ guy, he was heckling me the whole set, and finally there was a quiet moment and he’s like show us your tits. And I was like, did you come all the way from Surrey to tell me that, Sir.” as the place erupted with laughter and cheers. “I learned not to take any shit. You get moments like that. That’s not true, I take shit all the time.” she finished.
Kathleen ended her set with In State, the opening track off of 2005’s Back To Me. Hopefully, she will headline the next time she’s in Vancouver with Jason as support. She’s been away from music long enough.
Kathleen Edward – Setlist
One More Song The Radio Won’t Like
Asking For Flowers
Hard On Everyone
Six O’Clock News
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Setlist
Hope the High Road
Last Of My Kind
It Gets Easier
Decoration Day (Drive-by Truckers cover)
Speed Trap Town
Flying Over Water
Cover Me Up
If We Were Vampires
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac cover)