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Story and photos by The Bon BonsNebraska's indie wonder group Bright Eyes kicked off their North American tour a few nights ago at Milwaukee's musical gem - the Pabst Theatre. Enigmatic Conor Oberst, who is the centerpiece of the ever revolving band of musicians, emerged onto the stage (along with his 11 piece band - which included longtime favorite Mike Mogis (producer, multi-instrumentalist) and recently permanent member Nate Walcott (keyboards/trumpet) all clad in snow white suits. This is quite a departure for Oberst. In the past he held firm to the indie fashion statement of throw on whatever's on the floor before a performance. Once tagged "rock's boy genius" and "the next Dylan" by the music press, Conor Oberst, now 27, is finding a simpler sophistication with his music. Digging through the roots of Americana music and finding a greater maturity in his lyrics - Bright Eyes have just released a fine album in Cassadaga
"Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" off of Cassadaga had a long anticipatory intro that was never earned because of the rest of the song's much too mellow delivery. Oberst then took a moment to thank the Pabst Theater for allowing the band to rehearse for the last three days before the kickoff of the tour. He also mentioned that he loved The Pabst so much that he wanted to start the tour there. "Make a Plan To Love Me" opened slowly and then built into a refined self awareness through it's lush orchestrations. Which included strings and winds and Mogis' and Walcott's swirling arrangements. "Four Winds" found Oberst in truly chaotic form. From the uptempo guitar hooks to the gravel spewing from his voice "off to old Dakota where genocide sleeps/in the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused East/I buried my ballast, I made my peace." The song was a near end-of-the road masterpiece.
Throughout the evening, one of Oberst's artist friends projected a myriad of strange art onto a gigantic screen, the whole stage and all of the performers as well. He apparently used cells of different images and manually moved them in various directions or layered them into montages of of sight and color. Many times you could see a giant hand shadow on the stage as he was manipulating his art to the music. It was a strangely beautiful and organic effect.
The ubiquitous "Conor I want to have your baby!" plead from the audience prompted him to retort "I don't want any kids - the world is way too fucked up for that!" Or maybe (with a grin on his face) I can be like Bob Marley and spread my seed everywhere!" Right around "Gold Mine Gutted" from 2005's Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is where things started to go awry for Oberst. After uttering "This song is about doing mescaline and watching bands. Maybe some of you have done that and maybe some of you are doing that right now," you could visibly see that he was messed up on something as his lyrics became more and more inaudible and slurred as he stumbled about the stage. Most of the songs played on this night were from Cassadaga. And while Oberst might have started to stumble at midset the band remained stellar throughout. Former Decemberists' drummer Rachel Blumberg kept the foundation rock solid.
Finishing off the evening with "The Calendar Hung Itself..." (alcohol making Oberst failing to remember many of the words to such an old song) off of 2000's Fevers and Mirrors and "Road To Joy" off of 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning. "Road To Joy" is still one of Bright Eyes greatest songs to date with it's assimilated rhythms and burning lyrics. This is where Conor Oberst went wild. He stumbled over to the orchestra and fell into the string section with a forlorn gusto. After laying there for about 15 seconds he got up and tried to hand his guitar to an audience member - but not before his tour manager could pull him back. Then he broke free, dropped his guitar and charged into the audience with the tour manager tightly in tow. The exasperated manager had to do this, not once, but twice while finally leading Oberst off the stage to end the set.
Shoegazers take note - the indie community will never be the same.
|Bright Eyes' 04/22 Milwaukee Setlist:|
|1. Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)
2. Hot Knives
3. Make a Plan To Love Me
5. False Advertising
6. Four Winds
7. Gold Mine Gutted
8. No One Would Riot For Less
9. Classic Cars
10. Soul Singer In A Session Band
11. Cleanse Song
12. I Believe In Symmetry
13. Lime Tree
14. The Calendar Hung Itself...
15. Road To Joy
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