With Jason Isbell’s new album Something More Than Free still camping out inside the Top 5 on the country, rock and folk charts, the singer-songwriter brought a slimmed-down 400 Unit to Conan O’Brien’s late-night show yesterday evening to perform “24 Frames.”
Isbell’s wife and bandmate Amanda Shires was absent from the lineup, advised by doctors to stay home during the final weeks of her pregnancy. Without her fiddle in the mix, the guys dialed back the twang and cranked up the rock, turning “24 Frames” into a boys-club-barroom-rocker that, according to Isbell’s spring interview with Rolling Stone Country, “sounds like the way indie rock sounded when I was 15.” Isbell sang the song with appropriate swagger, but the performance’s not-so-secret weapon was lead guitarist Sadler Vaden, who’s been handling most of the 400 Unit’s harmonies during Shires’ sabbatical. The band may not be complete these days, but they’ve rarely sounded better.
“A lot of people in Nashville think that the best song is the catchiest, or the one that sells the most copies,” Isbell told Rolling Stone recently. “They’re editing songs in a way that make them seem more consumable, I guess. I’m trying to edit them in a way that makes them more honest.”
Isbell’s summer tour is nearly over, winding to a finish this weekend with a pair of shows in Salt Lake City and Lyons, Colorado. The 400 Unit will hit the road again in mid-October, with Isbell headlining a four-night stand at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium before rounding out the year with gigs across the midwest and southeast.