Just like a "happy" Jason Isbell song, I missed the first song of the concert because I was waiting on my Harley for my girl to come out of her Southern gothic house on Bonaventure Road wearing weathered riding boots under the sunset shadows of live oaks draped with Spanish moss, and she put her mascara on eyes as big as stars while riding on back so we wouldn't miss the second song.
Isbell's music just makes you want to tell stories - the kind that are wild in rhythm and wounding in their delivery.
The character in "Live Oak" stands as solid as its title among classic Springsteen narratives.
I was rougher than the timber shipping out of Fond du Lac / When I headed south at 17, the sheriff on my back / I'd never held a lover in my arms or in my gaze / So I found another victim every couple days ...
The Ships of the Sea is by far the best venue in town when it comes to a spring night.
Thankfully the venue can accommodate those who have been following Isbell since the dark Drive-By Truckers days who want to get up and dance, and those who appreciate the lyrical mastery of sitting in near meditation holding on to each syllable of the haunting stories of a new Isbell, a veteran of the new South where characters might be a little more progressive and trying to make it and failing beautifully, as in "Elephant."
We burn these joints in effigy / And cry about what we used to be ...
I wouldn't say Isbell romanticizes misfortunes, but he knows how to extract the universal emotion from disappointment in a manner that makes us all feel we are part of his songs. Local songwriter Jason Bible from The Train Wrecks could feel it.
He had positioned himself right in the center of the audience for an optimal experience and appeared completely transfixed on every line and chord.
In his signature black western shirt, Bible was stoic and full of respect and admiration for Isbell's songs and recent redemption from hard living.
Matt Pricket, Southern gentleman and creator of the Savannah Book Festival, led the charge to dance in the perimeter during "Super 8."
I don't want to die in a Super 8 Motel / Just because somebody's evening didn't go so well ...
And that's putting it lightly. If you don't know why you would ever have to drink Pedialyte, Isbell can tell you.
Pricket told me later he couldn't figure out why there wasn't a mosh pit in the front during some of the more raucous songs.
Likely because by the next song, they were lulled into contemplation with a song like "Live Oak."
I buried her so deep she touched the water table line ...
At times I questioned Isbell's voice, thinking that it lacked the intensity of less-famous lyricists on the fringe of alt-country like Fred Eaglesmith or Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Company (now dead from the demons Isbell was able to hold at bay) whose songs exhibit a more dynamic range of voice and genre.
But then, Isbell would electrify with his thunders on a song like "Cover Me Up," and tiny shocks fired all over.
A heart on the run / Keeps a hand on a gun / It can't trust anyone ...
And as for my Southern gal, her mascara may have smeared a little when listening to "Cover Me Up."
But that just made her all the more beautiful, especially when she held me a little tighter on the back of the motorcycle on the way back past Bonaventure Cemetery because the sun had set and a wet chill settled.
So girl leave your boots by the bed / We ain't leaving this room / Till someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom ...