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Story and photos by Phil BonyataTaking a break from his critically and commercially acclaimed band Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst is finding a musical interlude with his new invocation - Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. The band was assembled in Mexico and features Nate Walcott, Jason Boesel, Macey Taylor, Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth. At 28, Oberst appears to be straddling the line between adolescence and adulthood. His lyrics are less focused on the youthful angst of his early Bright Eyes work and have crossed into the realm of more subtle, adult themes. On the country rocker "Sausalito" (from 2008's Conor Oberst) Conor sang the light and airy harmonies with a sincere fondness for the engaging lyrics. "Cape Canaveral," was played even in a more minimalist style than the record. The bands' simply spun guitar harmonies took a few moments to grasp until one could hear the more intricate melodies rise to the surface.
Conor still has the boyish good looks and a library full of critical acclaim. Although the much bandied moniker as "the next Dylan" might be a bit too much hyperbole, Oberst nonetheless writes thought provoking and engaging lyrics such as "If I go to heaven/I'll be bored as hell/Like a little baby/ at the bottom of a well" from "Milk Thistle." Fans searching for some darker themes found them abundantly on the moody "Lenders in the Temple" and the stark piano-driven "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)." Oberst seemed to possess a looseness and an organic happiness that was missing from earlier Bright Eyes shows in MIlwaukee where he was more consumed with nihilism and a bit too much alcohol. On this night, he moved about the stage quite gracefully as he engaged other members of the band throughout most of the evening's performance.
The pub like sing-along "Souled Out" was the highlight of the evening with it's thumping rhythm section and scorching guitars. Conor's loyal fans seemed to take heed as they became far more vocal and animated throughout the entire song. While the Mystic Valley Band might one day be a forgotten juncture in the ever changing musical career of Conor Oberst - it's safe to say that Conor might look back on these days with a wink and a smile.
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