Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit / Brandi Carlile / The War and Treaty
Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
Bonner Springs, KS
August 1, 2019
Words/photos by Josh Mintz
Not much can derail a concert like lightning. Bands can play through rain. They can play through wind. But lightning is a showstopper. The forecast for the August 1 Jason Isbell/Brandi Carlile show in Bonner Springs, Kansas looked foreboding in advance, with thunderstorms projected for the entire day. As it got closer to showtime the predicted weather cleared up by the hour, and when first band on the bill, The War and Treaty, took the stage, nary a drop of rain was falling from the sky.
The husband-and-wife duo that makes up The War and Treaty, Michael and Tanya Trotter, ooze with soul and style. The band made the most of their brief 30-minutes-on-the-dot opening slot. The pair has second-to-none vocals, but they shine brightest when harmonizing together. Michael and Tanya clearly have a bond both musical and personal, and it shows in their craft. With five minutes left in their set, they played the aptly-titled “Five More Minutes,” and then ceded the stage to Carlile.
Brandi Carlile‘s stock has skyrocketed since her jaw-dropping Grammy performance in February. There’s something infectious about her – she clearly loves what she does for a living, and it translates to each and every one of her live shows; her Bonner Springs set was no different. Carlile took the stage in a pink satin suit that she said she wore because she wanted to look fancy for a show with Jason Isbell, and set an aggressive tone early with “The Story,” which saw her transition from acoustic to electric guitar mid-song. Her band was nothing short of top-notch per usual; the identical twin combo of Tim (guitar) and Phil (bass) Hanseroth delivered instrumentally and vocally, especially when delivering three-part harmony with Carlile on “The Eye.”
Carlile added a Joni Mitchell song to her set, “Case of You,” as a warm-up to a Los Angeles show in October where she’ll cover Mitchell’s Blue in it’s entirety, and had the crowd dead-silent as they soaked it in. The highlight of the set, though, was definitely “The Joke,” the song that made the world stand up and take notice at the Grammy’s. Carlile’s vocals are so powerful, and with a string section on stage, the layers to the song were just jaw-dropping. The encore, “Party of One,” was just Brandi and a piano, and again reinforced the strength of her vocals. There were thousands of people there, and not one open audience member mouth. Jason Isbell may have been the show closer, but Brandi Carlile won the night.
The sun was down by the time Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the stage. The band immediately kicked into “Hope The High Road,” and the rock edge the band tends to have when Isbell’s wife, fiddle player Amanda Shires, is out with her own band and not on stage with the 400 Unit was evident. While they still bring fire with Shires, the music tends to be much more guitar-driven when she’s absent.
The set was fairly standard for recent Isbell shows; the band made their way through familiar songs like “Last of My Kind” and their newer song, “Overseas,” but probably got the best reception of the night when they bookended two Drive-By Truckers songs early, with “Goddamn Lonely Love” followed up by an absolutely blistering “Never Gonna Change.” Isbell and keyboard player Derry Deborja played a nice soft duet on “Elephant,” which saw Isbell take a small acoustic guitar solo near the end. “Elephant” is a song that really shows off Isbell’s songwriting chops; while the subject’s a painful one, he tells the story in an amazingly beautiful way.
Prior to playing “Maybe It’s Time,” the song Isbell contributed to the movie A Star is Born, he gave a little backstory on how “a famous actor” who plays a “space raccoon” (Bradley Cooper, who plays the male lead in A Star is Born and also voices Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy) called him up and left him a voicemail with his take on the track, and how he almost didn’t listen because he thought “the song would suck.” He went on to say how impressed he was with the version, and how he called Cooper back, who had been waiting on pin and needles because they needed Isbell’s approval.
The 400 Unit closed the set with Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” which provided probably the hottest guitar work of the night from both Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden. To no one’s shock, they finished their night with “If We Were Vampires,” a song the band has been closing with for most of their shows of late. It was a solid set, and yet another example of why Isbell has taken the music world by storm. He is a tremendously talented songwriter and singer but a hell of a guitar player as well. Many are good at one of those things, and he does them all exceptionally well.
There probably aren’t two hotter names in music right now than Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell, so to have both on the same bill was an absolute treat. If there was any way to nitpick the show, it would be that neither artist sat in with the other – a minor shock given that Isbell has been backing the Highwomen, the supergroup that includes Carlile and Amanda Shires. But again, that’s nitpicking. Both artists are top-notch performers and songwriters with amazing bands, and to no one’s shock, both left it all on stage.