The Henry Fonda Theater, Los Angeles
It is tough not to be jealous of Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes' 22-year-old frontman. During the second of two recent shows in Los Angeles, Oberst spectacularly described in song the beautiful but oftentiIt is tough not to be jealous of Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes' 22-year-old frontman. During the second of two recent shows in Los Angeles, Oberst spectacularly described in song the beautiful but oftentimes terrible nuances of the human experience at an age when he is barely able to drink legally. And—oh, yeah—the guy is pretty dreamy looking, too.
To a packed crowd evenly split along female and male lines—proof that Oberst is not just a puppy dog-eyed pretty boy—Bright Eyes blended mostly current and new, unreleased material into its 90-minute set. The audience seemed to liven most during songs from Bright Eyes' latest and most critically heralded 2002 album, Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Comparing a love interest to a dream on Lifted's "You Will. You? Will. You? Will.," Oberst's voice alternated effortlessly between tenderness and ferocity. Emotionally wrought showmanship through the set's many angst-ridden anthems could encourage criticisms of pretentiousness. But Oberst has a definite loose and loopy side. Midset, he broke out into a Marilyn Monroe-esque "Happy Birthday" serenade for Aidan Moffat, singer for opening act Arab Strap.
Oberst's backing band sounded at times muddy and not as solid as the group's album production level. But overall, hearing a xylophone, banjo, and electric and acoustic guitars at various times jelled eclectically well. That diversity helped showcase Bright Eyes' impressive musical range—gliding from a country rock twang on "Make War" to a spritely piano pop flourish on "Bowl of Oranges."
Capping off the night were a few numbers featuring just Oberst and his guitar, which created a true appreciative intimacy within the crowd. He is not just wailing about personal identity crisis, wrecked love, and depression but is actually living through it all. Still, Bright Eyes has the musical chops to keep delivering, regardless of Oberst's attraction to downbeat, sometimes pessimistic themes.—SA