Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit with Amanda Shires in Wilkes-Barre, PA
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is a long way from Jason Isbell’s beloved “Alabama Pines.” Yet his stop on Friday night at the F.M. Kirby Center, accompanied by his thundering backing band the 400 Unit and his wife Amanda Shires, who doubled as the opening act, didn’t feel anything like an outsider on foreign turf. Thanks to the power of the performances and an impressive array of stirring songs, the guy who just released Southeastern made this Northeast stage his temporary home.
After a brief crowd-pleasing set by guitar whiz Mike Mizwinski from nearby Pittston, PA, Shires strolled out with her ukulele and performed a sampler of her solo material, including several songs from her just-released album Down Fell The Doves. With a combination of quirky stage presence, idiosyncratic lyrics, and sneakily powerful vocals, she stealthily won over the crowd.
There was nothing stealthy about Isbell’s entrance, as he and the 400 Unit, a six-piece consisting of two guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and Shires’ fiddle, tore into a crunching version of “Go It Alone” from 2011’s Here We Rest. He stuck with guitar-laden crown pleasers early, including the anthemic one-two punch of “Decoration Day” and “Outfit,” a pair of songs Isbell wrote during his stint with the Drive By Truckers. If nothing else, Isbell’s shows are a reminder of just what that band lost upon his departure.
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