What did you miss if you weren’t at the Buckhead Theatre last Friday night? First, you missed a brilliant rock show. The music was loud and the bands all came prepared to deliver the goods. Second, you missed a lot of talking. The crowd was loud, and many seemed to have come prepared to drink and converse with friends while the bands provided a little incidental music.
Friday night’s show kicked off a two-day musical event honoring the one-year anniversary of the Buckhead Theatre and featured Johnny Corndawg, Futurebirds, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and hometown rock icons, drivin n cryin.
Let me start by saying that when I listen to Jason Isbell’s music, I wish that I had been born in Alabama. Lynyrd Skynyrd can sing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ ‘til the cows come home and I’ll remain proudly and fiercely South Carolinian, but when Jason asked the crowd, “how many of you out there are from Alabama?” I wanted to raise my hand, put on a battered Crimson Tide cap and join his club. Hell, give me the kool-aid. I’ll hold hands and lay in a circle; just make sure we’re doing it amongst the Alabama pines. I believe Jason Isbell. All of his songs may not be about Alabama, but I can’t imagine them being about anywhere else. While a Florida band’s cheerful ode to Alabama may forever be immortalized on the state’s license plate, Isbell will continue to give us the insider’s look at the hard-working, hard-scrabble, hard-drinking small town folk who may not always see Alabama as so sweet a place.
This is supposed to be a concert review, though, and not my long-winded praise of a single musician, so I’ll get back to the task at hand. After all of that positive talk, perhaps I should mention my only gripe about Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s set: I couldn’t hear Derry DeBorja play that Nord. I tried to imagine that magic that was coming out of that keyboard while watching him play, and I did imagine it, but I just couldn’t hear the magic. It’s a shame, too, because he was working hard up there. Here We Rest is quickly becoming one of my favorite records, so I was happy to hear a number of selections from the album. The band concluded their set with an octave pedal-filled version of ‘Never Gonna Change.’
It became evident to me during Drivin n Cryin’s soundcheck that the intention for the evening was to pull out all the stops and deliver a full-on rock show. Launching straight out of the gate with “Fly Me Courageous” and “Scarred But Smarter,” KK & Co. aptly demonstrated that they haven’t turned down the volume in 26 years. Even the typically tranquil ‘A Good Country Mile’ could not be bridled as Mac Carter and Jason Isbell engaged in a guitar duel in the middle of the song. It was one of my favorite portions of the evening, as I watched both players work hard not to cede to the other, and neither did. Jason was granted the last word, however, when Kevn brought the volume down and finished the song. The pace did slow a bit with an odd acoustic version of ‘I See Georgia,’ but the crowd quickly reengaged with the opening notes of ‘Honeysuckle Blue.’ Per the usual, ‘Straight to Hell’ was a chance for the crowd to display their singing and dancing skills. After a short encore break, the band returned to the stage where Tim Nielsen took over vocal duties for a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town.’ The evening finished, appropriately enough, with ‘Syllables,’ the final track from Mystery Road.
Thanks to my friend and long-time rock photographer, Carlton Freeman, for the photos.