I thought the asphalt was going to melt my shoes. We were lined up for over an hour to get into the back lot of Grimey’s. The stage was set, but we had still two hours to go before Jason Isbell was going to play his new album. I waited for an hour before I relented to the heat.
The mid July sun poured over the three story brick building, so I sneaked into the bar underneath the record store, conveniently called “The Basement.” Inside it was cool and dark, and most importantly had cold malted hops flowing from a tap.
I lost track of time in The Basement. “You know some people are comparing him to Dylan. Simple music and profound lyrics,” a hip middle aged man told me. The crowd began to gather outside and in. It was a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the summer yet the place was packed.
The crowd buzzed and I stuck my head outside, looking back across the parking lot to the tour bus parked in the alley way behind the lot, Isbell and his band made their way to the stage. I chugged a water and stepped back into the July heat.
From behind the stage, I watched as he played his album start to finish, opening with “If It Takes A Lifetime.” It’s an optimistic little ditty about maturing in life with patience for yourself. He finished with a playful crescendo, and the crowd cheered. Then silence fell on everyone.
This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing
And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love that she
Gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing
Wearing black jeans and t-shirt, the only person in the whole place not bothered by the heat, he leaned into the microphone and placed his words. This is what everyone showed up for. They wanted him to play “24 Frames.” He sang the second stanza:
This is how you make yourself call your mother
And this is how you make yourself closer to your brother
And remember him back when he was small enough to help you sing
The chorus hit and everything had changed. The audience of 30-50 year old mostly white men, but their faces red with sun, twisted as they sang out:
You thought God was an architect, now you know
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
In twenty- four frames
Their pain given voice; many angry at a god they didn’t think existed. In choral unison, they reflected it back out at Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit. As his guitar screeched the solo, their sun battered faces were now tear stained as their wounds had drawn up from the depths of their being had been exercised.