Live Review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Georgia Theatre

On Friday night, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played their second of three sold-out nights at the Georgia Theatre. The room was packed to the brim with fans of Isbell—a rowdy yet entertaining crowd, similar to one you might see at a Drive-By Truckers show, only, perhaps, a little more sober.

Isbell, himself a former member of the Truckers, is no stranger to our city, and within the first few songs of his set, he announced how great it was “to be back in Athens.” Isbell even played a few Truckers songs, all of which he wrote—“Danko/Manuel,” “Outfit” and “Never Gonna Change.”

The 400 Unit, made up of Sadler Vaden (lead guitar), Derry deBorja (keyboards), Jimbo Hart (bass guitar) and Chad Gamble (drums), filled the stage with an abundance of energy and chemistry. In almost every song, Vaden would play a slide guitar solo that was nearly as mesmerizing as Isbell’s lyricism. 

Impressively, the 400 Unit can capture an audience member’s full attention from anywhere in the room. If you’ve ever been to a sold-out show at the Georgia Theatre, you know that not every seat is a good seat, and it can be hard to find a good viewpoint unless you arrive hours early, but this didn’t seem to bother much of the crowd. I saw more than one fan standing in a spot where they couldn’t see the stage yet still singing along to every word, swaying with their eyes shut. There aren’t many shows everyone would enjoy without being able to view the actual performance, but Isbell’s presence is that powerful. 

Isbell’s lighting designer and operator, Mikey Cummings and Sarah Jaffee of Pulse Lighting, might have been two of the biggest stars in the room. The lighting throughout the show was loud and purposeful, with its variety of colors, patterns, movements and perfect timing. The show wouldn’t have been as full without it.