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Isbell, Mann deliver a best musical moment

The Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, August 30, 2018

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Jason Isbell's first headlining concert at the Greek Theatre also featured his wife Amanda Shires on fiddle and vocals. This addition changed his performance dynamic considerably because when he sang his sexiest song, "Cover Me Up," he sang it directly to Shires. Then when he uttered the vulnerably honest lyrics to "If We Were Vampires," where he imagines out loud an eventual separation his life partner, Shires was right there to ponder this scary inevitability with him. So, in addition to all the wonderful Isbell songs, Shires presence added a welcome Johnny and June factor to the evening.

In addition to Shires' contributions, one couldn't help noticing anew the greatness of the 400 Unit. Maybe it was Sadler Vaden's Rickenbacker guitar or Derry DeBorja's organ fills that so often brought Tom Petty's Heartbreakers to mind. This band was tight, and powerful when it needed to be, especially during such emotionally gripping songs like "Cumberland Gap" and "White Man's World."

The night's highlight, though, arrived with "Last of My Kind," one of Isbell's quieter songs. Lyrically, it covers a lot of ground, including homelessness, family farming and Isbell's college days. What makes it so great, though, is it's a lot like "If We Were Vampires" in that the listener feels like Isbell is thinking and saying many of these ideas for the first time. The listener is led to believe he/she has been invited to listen in on the man's inner most thoughts and forgets this is actually a singer singing a song.

It was an extra treat to have Aimee Mann as the evening's opening act, even though this singer/songwriter's urban sophistication contrasted with Isbell's country-influenced Americana. During his set, Isbell praised Mann for influencing his songwriting approach, and it was easy to see why he's so smitten with her. Mann joked about how many of her songs are slow and depressing, but there was also a beauty and intelligence to them, too. Whether she was expressing disappointment with "Save Me," or anger at a former lover through "You Never Loved Me," Mann appeared to be fully in charge, more like a headliner than an opener.

Over the years, the Greek Theatre has played host to some of Los Angeles' best musical moments, and tonight Jason Isbell and Aimee Mann proved just how much they deserve to be part of this great legacy.