Armed with a new batch of songs from their critically acclaimed album WeathervanesJason Isbell and The 400 Unit returned to Asheville, NC’s Rabbit Rabbit on Friday. The alt-country powerhouse Unit previously visited the downtown open-air venue back in June 2022, but a lot has changed since then. Presenting a revamped live show with a couple new band members and 13 fresh songs behind them, Isbell and company had plenty to catch up on with the sold-out crowd.

Even before playing the first note, Isbell’s backing band was noticeably different. On bass replacing Jimbo Hart for this stop was Anna Butterss, who confidently held down the rhythm while Hart sits out this leg of the tour for his mental well-being. Helping her keep the rhythm was the band’s new Swiss Army Knife Will Johnson, who plays second drums to Chad Gamble as well as adds third guitar to Jason and Sadler Vaden, sings backup vocals, and bangs the gong once a night on “Miles”. Jason quipped during the show that if you strike the gong once you’re just hitting it, whereas, “If you hit it more than once you’re playing it.” One wonders how funny that joke is to the roadies who have to load the gong in and out every night just for that one strike.

And, as colloquial opener S.G. Goodman warned us during her warm-up set, Jason was sporting a new haircut. Evidently, he’d been looking shaggy their past couple weeks on tour but got a fresh cut for Ashville, with Goodman concluding he must therefore love Asheville the most.

With the expanded lineup, the band is better able to recreate the layered overdubs from Weathervanes. From the thundering “King Of Oklahoma” and “When Were Close” to the tender “Strawberry Woman” and “Middle Of The Morning”, the dense instrumentation brings the stage closer to the lush sounds of the studio on Isbell’s self-produced LP. Johnson’s backing vocals were especially evident on “Death Wish”, which utilized the voices of Isbell, Vaden, and Butterss to replicate the round heard on the album.

Another benefit of Johnson’s involvement was that his six-string additions carried the load and freed up Isbell and Vaden to engage in numerous Allman Brothers Band-esque dual-guitar jams, most notably the closing “This Ain’t It” which featured a full-on “Ramblin’ Man” tease. This perhaps was no coincidence, as the night before the show Jason made a surprise appearance with ABB tribute act Trouble No More at Asheville’s Salvage Station. Joining in with young guns Daniel Donato and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Isbell showed off his Southern rock chops on “One Way Out” and “Whipping Post” to close the show on Thursday. Or maybe he just couldn’t wait to show off that new haircut.

Mixed in with heavy helpings from the new album, Isbell also reached back into his deep catalog of time-tested classics. At a show where most of the people know damn near all the words to the songs—even the new ones—Isbell is still finding new ways to approach the songs he has to play every stop of the tour. Particularly on the sentimental masterpieces “Cover Me Up” and “If We Were Vampires”, Isbell utilized his extended backing band to deliver more full-bodied renditions of the songs that bring the crowd to an awed hush and pulls them closer together. And for those with no one to hold, you hold yourself, and know you’re enough.

The new developments extended out beyond the stage. On a personal note, the last time Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit came to Asheville, June 4th, 2022, I was there celebrating my one-year anniversary with my partner. The day after this most recent show, she was coming by to move her things out of the apartment we shared. This cyclical timing was something that was not lost on me, and is also the kind of cosmic irony that Jason Isbell would write a song about. Weeping openly throughout the concert, I found a catharsis in Isbell’s unique way of making heartbreak sound, and even for a few moments feel, so beautiful.

As Jason sings in one of many Weathervanes highlights “Death Wish”, “You gotta find a reason to carry on.” Things change, whether it be songs, bands, or the people closest to you. People come in and out of your life at certain times for certain reasons, and I was quite fortunate that Jason Isbell happened to come through town at these specific times in my life.

Check out some photos from Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Rabbit Rabbit in Asheville, along with opener S.G. Goodman, courtesy of photographers Heather Burditt and Paul Stebner. The band has a short reprieve from the road before heading back out on September 8th for a show in Iowa City. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit Isbell’s website.

Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit – Rabbit Rabbit – Asheville, NC – 8/11/23 – Full Show


Setlist: Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit | Rabbit Rabbit | Asheville, NC | 8/11/23

Set: Overseas, Save The World, King Of Oklahoma, Strawberry Woman, Last Of My Kind, Stockholm When We Were Close. Alabama Pines, Death Wish, White Beretta, Super 8, Middle Of The Morning, Honeysuckle Blue (Drivin’ n’ Cryin’) [1], Cast Iron Skillet, Miles, Cover Me Up

Encore: 24 Frames, If We Were Vampires, This Ain’t It

[1] w/ Sadler Vaden on lead vocals