Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

The Mountain Goats

Fri. Jul 7

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Palace Theatre - St. Paul/Minneapolis

$49.50

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This event is 18 and over

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Southeastern is not a record Jason has made before, and not simply because the glorious storm and drama of his band, the 400 Unit, is absent. They will tour together; it's not a break-up record, not an album of dissolving, but, rather, songs of discovery. And not at all afraid, not even amid the tears.

Which is to say that he has grown up.

That it has been a dozen years since he showed up at a party and left in the Drive-By Truckers' van with two travel days to learn their songs. And then taught them some of his songs in the bargain.

Jason Isbell's solo career has seemed equally effortless, from Sirens of the Ditch (2007) to Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit (2009), through Here We Rest (2011) and last year's Live From Alabama. Loud records, unrepentantly southern, resplendent with careful songwriting. Songs which inspire and intimidate other musicians, and critics. "
A heart on the run / keeps a hand on the gun / can't trust anyone," Jason sings just now, his words brushing gently atop an acoustic guitar figure "Cover Me Up," the song with which he has chosen to open Southeastern. Such tenderness. An act of contrition, an affirmation of need, his voice straining not to break: "Girl leave your boots by the bed / We ain't leaving this room / Till someone needs medical help / Or the magnolias bloom."

He sighs into the phone, considering what he's done, and why. "I'm really purposefully ignorant of any sort of sales consideration, or radio considerations, or anything like that," Jason says. "Before I'd felt like, this song needs to be this length, or this song needs to be mastered in this way, or this song needs to have drums on it, or this song needs a bigger hook. I just completely did away with all those considerations for this record. And made it as if I were really just making it for me, and for people like me who listen to entire albums."

Raw, open, and reflective. Sobriety can be like that. Jason's made it past his first year, which is rather more than a promise and will always be far from a guarantee.

Treatment programs teach that one should let go, easier said than done. Perhaps that's why

Isbell was willing to trust his songs to David Cobb. Cobb has produced Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson and the Secret Sisters, but it was a Squidbillies' session with George Jones which finally brought his work to Jason's attention. "The song that he did with George Jones was a minute and a half, two minutes long," Jason says, But the production of it was perfect because he nailed every single era of George's career, and that really impressed me. A lot."
Jason Isbell chooses his words carefully and speaks them softly, only the gentle lilt of south Alabama left for shading. "A lot of my favorite songwriters and recording artists are afraid," he says. "Afraid to turn anything over to a producer, so they continue to make the same record over and over and over and over. More often than not, really. It's really frustrating for me."

There had been other plans for the album, as there always are, and for the first time Jason had the songs done well before production commenced. In the inevitable way of things, it all came together in a rush. They finished recording at midnight on a Thursday. Friday he and Amanda Shires went to their rehearsal dinner, got married Saturday, and had to wait until they returned from their honeymoon to approve the mastered album.

It is Amanda's voice and violin joining with Jason on "Traveling Alone," as evocative a song of a loneliness as anyone's written since "Running On Empty." A promise.

The songs are invested with Jason's particular, personal truths, but they're not about him. Or, rather, the emotional truths are probably about the songwriter, but not the stories he's telling. "Live Oak" opens with an a cappella verse: "There's a man who walks beside me / He is who I used to be / I wonder if she sees him / And confuses him with me?" It is the kind of question a man asks as he readies to marry a woman who met him and knew him and loved him before sobriety stuck (and a question a singer might well ask his audience under the same circumstances), though the story is about a roving criminal in either the 18th or 20th centuries.

It is not, to be clear, an acoustic album. "Flying Over Water" and "Super 8" have more than the requisite amount of guitar squawl to propel them. But it is the quite, contemplative songs that lure you in out of the rain, and those songs especially that draw one into the arc of the entire album. To the elegance of "Songs That She Sings in the Shower": "With a stake / Held to my eye / I had to summon the confidence needed/To hear her good-bye."

"I've done my part," Jason says, his dry chuckle trailing off. "I make things and other people try to sell those things. I try not to mix the two together. I think that's just a better way to make more quality things."

He is, of course, right.
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats
In 2014, John Darnielle's novel Wolf in White Van spent several weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and was nominated for the National Book Award. On April 7, 2015 Darnielle and his band the Mountain Goats return with Beat the Champ, a collection of songs about professional wrestling.

"I wrote these songs to re-immerse myself in the blood and fire of the visions that spoke to me as a child, and to see what more there might be in them now that I'm grown," Darnielle says of Beat the Champ's 12 songs.

The Mountain Goats (John Darnielle, Peter Hughes, and Jon Wurster) have also announced their first round of shows in support of Beat the Champ.

Listen and share "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero" now. In addition, Joseph Fink of Welcome to Night Vale wrote a few words about the album, which you can read below.

Beat the Champ is available for pre-order now on CD, standard double-LP, and deluxe double-LP in the Merge store. The deluxe version will be pressed on limited-edition colored vinyl (gold and green) and include a bonus red vinyl 12-inch that features the non-album track "Blood Capsules" and a dub version of the same song on the B-side. Both the standard and deluxe LPs include a coupon for a full album download.

Joseph Fink on Beat the Champ:

I have been asked to write a bit about the upcoming album by the Mountain Goats called Beat the Champ. There is little I would love to do more.

Unfortunately I am a fiction writer, which is to say I am a liar. As a result, there are a number of lies below. Sorry about that. I've done my best to point out which parts are true.

Let's start with this. The Mountain Goats are releasing a new album. The name of this album is Beat the Champ. It is, as any fan of the band will expect, a heartbreaking and heartreviving album about imperfect people described perfectly, with melodies that will stay with you for days.

There are also things about it that even longtime fans will not expect.

That's all true.

The Mountain Goats, if you are not a longtime fan, is an itinerant, pseudomystical motorcycle cult that raises money through a regional chain of discount furniture outlets and the occasional musical release in order to fund their mysterious rituals and sacrifices enacted upon the highways and backroads of America.

That's true as well.

The songs in Beat the Champ are about the simple and beautiful stories of professional wrestling as seen by fans who need something simple in their messy lives.

The songs are also about the complicated and beautiful lives of the people who work in professional wrestling, who do their best to entertain, to leave a mark, and, when all else fails, to survive.

It is an album about, as the chorus of one of its tracks puts it, "nameless bodies in unremembered rooms." I think that the entire career of the Mountain Goats has been about giving names to nameless bodies, and remembering unremembered rooms. I can't think of a more worthy cause.

The most famous wrestling match of all time was, of course, the Dunkirk Lion versus Hunk the Monk in their 1977 flaming cage match at Apocalypse Rumble: Pittsburgh. The match was to be held over an open spike pit and was to feature heavy mallets swinging wildly from wires. The match was so outrageously dangerous that both wrestlers refused to participate, and the resulting fan riot leveled the city, allowing for construction of the new Pittsburgh that stands today.

The least famous wrestling match of all time was between Shannon Kim and Maggie Lucero, in Maggie's backyard in Moorpark, CA, their faces pushed into the wet grass, neither quite sure how wrestling worked, but both feeling the joy of seeing what bodies are capable of, neither able to do much but shove the other and slip on the damp ground, just a few minutes of half-hearted wrestling and then they biked down to the weed-filled canyon out behind their housing development and dared each other to climb to the top of a cinderblock retaining wall.

Beat the Champ is a gorgeous album that sees the Mountain Goats expand themselves musically, in startling and exciting ways. Here is a jazz chord progression over brushed cymbals. Here is a track that spirals out from verse and chorus into a slow, hazy piano solo. Here are pounding drums straight from a metal record. And here, as always, are songs like no one else can write them. Like no one else does write them.

Everything I've said so far is true. So is this:

When my father was dying, literally was on his deathbed, although we did not know it, he and I sang songs by the Mountain Goats together.

After finishing singing one of the songs, my father leaned his head back, looked over to a beam of sun coming in from a window with a gorgeous view of the Hollywood Hills that he could not see from his bed, and said: "What an optimistic man." He died two days later.

Nameless bodies in unremembered rooms. What an optimistic man. What an album. What a goddamn album.
Venue Information:
Palace Theatre - St. Paul/Minneapolis
17 W. Seventh Place
St. Paul, MN, 55102
http://palacestpaul.com/