Review:  Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit w/ Deer Tick

When the gates opened, the mad dash for the best real estate on the lawn began. Blankets spread, beverages poured, and picnics arranged, the fans were ready. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Deer Tick didn’t disappoint the Red Butte Garden revelers. On Saturday, July 8, they shared tried and true favorites alongside fresh, new sounds with the packed audience. Both bands have recently released critically-acclaimed albums that will undoubtedly reshape their set lists.

Deer Tick opened the evening with a 10-song set, equal parts new and old. The Providence, Rhode Island roots rockers just released their first album of new material in six years. Emotional Contracts proved worth the wait. They opened their set with “If I Try To Leave,” a ripping new number with a ‘70s retro rock sound. Deer Tick fans who wanted to hear older stuff were pleased with “Ashamed” from 2007 and “Hope Is Big” from their past catalog. But, I think the new material owned the night. “Forgiving Ties,” “Running From Love,” and “Once In a Lifetime” map their artful musical progression. They ended their set with ”The Real Thing,” a tailor-made show-closer with its building drum beat, guitar distortion, culminating with emotionally strained vocals. Those wanting more will be happy to know that Deer Tick will be headlining at The Commonwealth Room in November.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit were on a mission: to highlight Weathervanes, their newly released record. Nearly half of their 19-song set was dedicated to that material. They started with “Save The World,” a new tune about an old problem–uncontrolled gun violence. The up-tempo “King of Oklahoma” explored the human cost of opioid addiction. Isbell is in top form as a lyricist and storyteller, weaving together a fresh batch of material about humans struggling against changing social headwinds. 

Photography by Moses Namkung, @mosesnphoto

The crowd at this sold-out show expected to hear lyrical ballads alongside some good old-school rock ‘n’ roll. Isbell and the 400 Unit delivered. “Last of My Kind” and “Cast Iron Skillet” were some of my favorites country tunes. “Miles” gave Isbell and lead guitarist Sadler Vaden the room to stretch-out and rock. Isbell turned over the keys temporarily to Vaden who brought thunder to the mountain with “Honeysuckle Blue,” a song by Vaden’s former band Drivin’ n’ Cryin’.

The show also commemorated the ten-year anniversary of Isbell’s breakout album, Southeastern. They played “Stockholm” and ended the show with the record’s major hit “Cover Me Up.” The crowd of three thousand stood in rapt attention while Isbell belted out “So, girl leave your boots by the bed we ain’t leaving this room ‘till someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.” Isbell’s voice carried across the amphitheatre while the crowds sang along.  

For their stirring encore the band reassembled for the Grammy-winning roots-rock hit, “24 Frames” and the acoustic tune, “If We Were Vampires.” For the grand finale they ended with the fresh new rocker “This Ain’t It.” Well, actually, it was it. Time to pack up our picnic gear and head home. It was another great summer night on the mountain. 

Who: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit w/ Deer Tick

Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre

When: Saturday, July 8, 2023


John Nelson
John Nelson
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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