Friday, June 16, 2023

Not a Jason Jukebox: The 400 Unit Melts Faces with All of Weathervanes on the Opening Night of Tour


As much a fan journal as a review...

Years ago, it wouldn’t be no-big-thing to swing by a venue for soundcheck rehearsal, to fanboy out and maybe lurk near the tour bus, but that's just not something I regularly do anymore. But I’ve driven more than 500 miles this week to get here, so why not.

I arrived at 4:10pm. Tour buses were parked & partitioned off by a shaded fence. The newish venue looks a lot nicer than I imagined it might. Very new, very suburban vibe out here in the Ozarks, and as I drove to the place from the west, it was all fields and trains and stuff.

Fayetteville, Arkansas. Population 95,000. 

How do they choose these locations for these tour-launch-shows, anyway. Out here in the heartland, I suppose we are pretty darn close to the setting for "King of Oklahoma." 

This is the first show after the album release at Eastside Bowl, last Friday (which I missed, because I was out of town seeing another artist). Knowing that this was the only show with Adeem the Artist opening, I felt prompted, no compelled, to jettison Bonnaroo tickets, drive more than 500 miles, and add tickets to the Open Highway Festival in St. Louis on Saturday, to make this a Jason weekend. 

Grabbing just a little bit of shade on the venue perimeter, I can hear soundcheck through the venue walls. Something so exciting about the early arrival, even though I hope to sneak off for a snack and shower here soon, would simply be hearing the noodling and chit chat and long silence between takes, a window to my forever dream to be a professional journalist, with early access on the air-conditioned other side of this brick wall. The weather apps say it is 88 degrees.

These are the songs I heard at soundcheck:
If You Insist
Honeysuckle Rose

Then, I actually did slip away, but not to escape the sunshine at first.  Instead, I opted for a short hike on the Razorback greenway, followed by a delicious burrito from Taco Bell (hey I was hungry after the walk), and then back to the AirBnb for a shower. I don’t like standing around too long before a show, so I made it just in time for Adeem’s opening song. As the supporting set started to evolve, I realized that instead of the usual 45 minutes I have come to expect for the opener, Adeem was getting an hour, which meant 13 songs. And 13 songs with a bassist and a drummer that truly made it not just rocking but more magical. Honestly, Adeem would have told more stories without the band, and we would have had fewer songs.

And what 13 great songs we got, including several from the “just-out-on-vinyl” Cast Iron Pansexual (I Never Came Out, Going To Heaven) and the “hits” from White Trash Revelry (Middle of a Heart, Going to Hell). The early-in-the-set standard Fervent For The Hunger, included a snippet from Isbell’s iconic 24 Frames, much to the joyful appreciation of the crowd. From a new unreleased song to a song from the vast Bandcamp back catalog to covers by John Prine and Tom Petty, Adeem really crafted a setlist arc to treat their fans as well as reach out to the folks that had never heard them before.

Set breaks on a big night like this, the gap time can put me on pins and needles. But not this time. You could say that I am kind of shooting as superfan for Adeem, with this being my 9th time seeing them. So I just hang out with them at merch, quiz them about the new song in the setlist, meet some of their other fans waiting in line to buy vinyl and get stuff signed. Which meant Jason’s first song at 9:05pm came so quickly. The cresting wave of freakout anticipation collided with the songs. 

We setlist geeks on the fan pages had been geeking out about how many Weathervanes songs we might get in a “regular” show, that wasn’t the record release party. I don’t think anyone really imagined the entire album getting played. But that’s exactly what happened, not in the LP’s order mind you, and with sparse classics sprinkled through. 

It was my first time seeing a Jason and the 400 Unit show without an oldie from the Drive By Truckers catalog. It was my first time at a show without Hope The High Road since before the Nashville Sound came out in 2017. Stockholm was the only song besides Cover Me Up from Southeastern, even though a 10th anniversary of that album set could be in order at some point. I am awed by the audacious confidence and chops it took to refuse the Jason-as-jukebox-of-his-former-self style of legacy show!! 

It will be wild to see if this kind of setlist is sustained for the entire summer.
Do the unapologetic rockers rock even more rock in a live setting with a great sound system. Yes and then some. Was it fire? Of course it was, with nothing but smoldering ashes and melted faces where the venue once stood.

Earlier on Thursday, Jason tweeted about opening night of the Weathervanes tour, thankfully contradicting the strange claim by a Pitchfork writer that the tour began 3 months ago. What? No, this was the big night, and I wasn’t the only person who traveled great distance to greet this epic occasion, having met others with similar mileage at the show or online. 

I don’t know if this is really a proper review but plainly just more of my fan journal that I started scribbling yesterday. I do know that I am typing this on not enough sleep and not enough coffee from my modest AirBnb, so I must get on the road, as my sweet spouse meets me at the St. Louis airport to join me for tomorrow’s show. 

Save The World
24 Frames 
Vestavia Hills
King of Oklahoma
Last of My Kind
Strawberry Woman
If You Insist
Middle of the Morning
When We Were Close
White Beretta
Death Wish
Cast Iron Skillet
Honeysuckle Blue
Cover Me Up
If We Were Vampires
This Ain't It