Latin Music Week

Conor Oberst / Aug. 12, 2008 / New York (Bowery Ballroom)

The Bright Eyes singer, now "solo," mused about love, mortality and the open road at this sold-out New York club show.

On “Conor Oberst,” the Bright Eyes wunderkind’s first “solo” outing, the singer songwriter travels to a variety of places – Cape Canaveral, Sausalito, Calif., the Valle Mistico in Mexico. On this Tuesday night (Aug. 12), however, the Omaha native set up shop in New York City, another destination he visits, or, more accurately, leaves, on the track “NYC-Gone, Gone.”

For this new album and supporting tour, Oberst backed by his newly minted Mystic Valley Band instead of his usual Bright Eyes cohorts. The Mystics decamped to Mexico to record the set (his first for Merge), where Oberst explores his country-rock leanings moreso than the emo-y folk of previous efforts.

All in all, it has put him in a different place live. He’s seemingly evolved past his the tortured-artist phase of his younger days, wherein during live sets he was oft prone to tantrums or up and quitting halfway through. This night, in front of the sold-out Bowery Ballroom crowd, Oberst was almost jovial at times, and the comraderie among band members added to the livelihood of many of the songs.

And while in some ways the new songs lack the same introspection evident on Bright Eyes releases, there’s a relaxing, warmer feel to the new music. From the rollicking country of “Moab” and “Sausalito” to the jaunty vibe of “I Don’t Want to Die (In the Hospital)” and the Dylan-esque “Get-Well-Cards,” Oberst and the gang did the new songs justice, fleshing out each guitar lick and piano run to full effect.

The stripped-down “Cape Canaveral” and “Milk Thistle” were reminiscent of Bright Eyes acoustic numbers, Oberst’s signature wavering vocals providing a familiarity fans have come to know and expect. And over the course of the night, the singer mused about love, mortality and the open road.

Although the set didn’t visit any of Oberst’s old material, his audience didn’t seem to mind. At 28, he’s still young, but he’s been around long enough to have proven he has plenty of folks along for his ride, ready to follow him wherever he takes them next.