On a still August evening, Jason Isbell laid it all bare.
A master songwriter, Isbell sang about getting over booze, falling in love, getting in fights, thinking about forever, feeling worthy and getting out of town.
He sang about everything, his voice and guitar ringing out in the warm air of downtown Benson as 2,000 fans packed Military Avenue outside The Waiting Room Lounge.
For the uninitiated, Isbell’s a Grammy-winning Americana, rock and country singer-songwriter who Rolling Stone called “the last of a dying breed.”
He’s not singing about tractors and girls and name-dropping his favorite beer. Isbell’s the real deal — one of the best country singers around — and his songwriting ability is matched by his powerful Alabama-inflected voice and masterful guitar skills.
And let’s be honest: Isbell’s songs are rarely happy. But they’re not exactly sad, more like contemplative examinations of the realities of life without glorifying them.
Isbell’s material is more honest than your usual country songs, dealing with the truth of living in a small town where everyone knows you, the knowledge that falling in love means it might end someday, that it’s not always fun when you have too many drinks.
On Sunday night, Isbell and The 400 Unit — Derry deBorja, Jimbo Hart, Chad Gamble, Charles Rose and Sadler Vaden — kicked out the jams for 90 minutes as fans were entranced, singing along to “If We Were Vampires,” “Speed Trap Town” and “Last of My Kind.”
“We’re happy to be in Omaha on a beautiful evening,” Isbell said. “We’re gonna have a lot of fun.”
Formerly a member of the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell left the band in 2007 and began releasing solo albums. Since then, he’s racked up four Grammy Awards and mountains of praise for albums such as “Southeastern” and “The Nashville Sound.”
And he played a little from each era including “Never Gonna Change” and “Lonely Love” from the DBT days and even his song from “A Star Is Born,” “Maybe It’s Time.” Isbell even treated the audience to a new song, “Overseas.”
Sign up for the Go newsletter
This complete guide of local music, movies, dining and entertainment will have you weekend ready.
It began as a somber strummer in which Isbell crooned, “My love won’t change/you’re never coming back to me” and “does your heart rest easy where you are?” and finished as Isbell jammed a long lead solo on a Stratocaster.
When he stepped to the lip of the stage and shredded emotional solos during “Last of My Kind,” “Super 8” and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” Isbell looked completely blissed out, and the audience delighted in his guitar battles with Vaden.
The emotion reached a high point when Isbell stepped onstage with an acoustic guitar to perform “Cover Me Up,” a song written for his wife that’s also about leaving booze behind, falling in love and finding a little redemption all at the same time.
It’s a gorgeous song about an emotional experience, and it was Isbell’s breakout song. Though he’s probably performed it hundreds of times at this point, Isbell still howled its words with passion as he picked out its impassioned notes.
Some fans stood in awe. Some sang the song like they wrote it themselves.
“Thank y’all so much. Thank y’all for listening,” Isbell said.” It’s a beautiful night. We’re happy to be here.”
Our best concert photos of 2019
Relive your favorite local shows with some of our best photos.