Raw and Emotional
Isbell and the 400 Unit were the musical guest on the first ‘Kimmel’ show since the writers strike
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit were the soundtrack to Jimmy Kimmel Live’s first show back since the writers strike on Monday night. Isbell performed “When We Were Close” off his latest release, Weathervanes.
Backed by a reconstituted 400 Unit — Anna Butterss on bass, while Jimbo Hart takes some time off; and Will Johnson on guitar, handling Sadler Vaden’s parts — Isbell delivered the raw, emotional rocker about a friendship that turned complicated. Though never overtly revealed, “When We Were Close” is about Isbell’s relationship with Justin Townes Earle, who died in 2020 from an accidental drug overdose.
“I got a picture of us back when we were close/Before we had somebody picking out our clothes/But you always dressed in your Sunday best/Even when we didn’t have nowhere to go,” Isbell sings in the first verse, painting a picture of Earle’s dapper fashion style. Later, in the bridge, he delivers a wallop: “It’s not up to me to forgive you/For the nights that your love had to live through/Now you’ll never need to look me in the eye.”
It’s one of Isbell’s most brutally honest songs, a sad coda to a lost friendship, and a standout of Weathervanes, released back in June. On Oct. 12, Isbell and the 400 Unit will kick off their annual fall residency at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, playing eight shows through Oct. 22.This year’s openers highlight LGBTQ artists, many of whom identify as trans, genderqueer or nonbinary. These include Izzy Heltai, Satya, S.G. Goodman, Lawrence Rothman, Autumn Nicholas, Adeem the Artist, and Quinn Christopherson. Amanda Shires will also open one of the shows.