April 4, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Conor Oberst has always seemed quite comfortable on the First Avenue stage. Monday night proved to be no exception, as Oberst, back performing under the Bright Eyes moniker, treated the sold-out crowd to a two-hour set filled with hits both new and old. It was the first Bright Eyes show in Minneapolis since 2007, and even though there were decided peaks and valleys along the way, the engaging, impassioned 24-song performance certainly didn't disappoint, and had a little something for everyone sprinkled in throughout the lively set.
Titus Andronicus opened the night with a fiery 40-minute set that satisfied their longtime fans and surely gained them some converts as well. It was exactly the type of energetic performance that any fan wants from the opener, as frontman Patrick Stickles and the rest of the band poured their hearts into each and every stormy track they rolled through. The whirlwind set drew equally between the band's two stellar records, and by the time "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ" made it's appearance midway into their performance, even those in the audience who were actively trying to ignore the band while they were waiting for Conor to show up started paying attention.
The subtle violin work of Amy Klein on the last few numbers was a nice touch as well, giving a bit of a softer edge to their spirited songs. It was a fun and feisty opening set from Titus Andronicus, and anyone going to First Avenue to see the show tonight should plan on getting there early, because trust me, you don't want to miss this band.
I don't think I've ever seen a smoke machine used at a Bright Eyes show, but by the time Oberst and the rest of his six-piece backing band took the stage to Denny Brewer's opening diatribe on "Firewall," it was shrouded in a thick, hazy mist. There were also colorful digital projections on a big screen behind the band, adding a decidedly futuristic touch to the set. But the songs featured in the performance were all steeped in tradition and lore, with Oberst not only highlighting tracks from his excellent new album, The People's Key, but his entire back catalog as well, dusting off some rarities that he hasn't performed live in a while.
The set stormed out of the gates, with "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)," "Jejune Stars," and "Four Winds" all soaring. Oberst also wasted no time making a connection with his adoring audience, thanking us repeatedly throughout the set and genuinely stating how nice it was for him to be back in Minneapolis. The crowd was likewise thrilled just to be hearing Bright Eyes material again, and Oberst kept his hardcore fans happy by digging deep in his archives for a couple of classics early on, with "Something Vague" and "Trees Get Wheeled Away" (which Oberst dedicated to Titus Andronicus) both resonating strongly. The new material fit in seamlessly alongside those older numbers as well, with "Shell Games" and the pensive "Approximate Sunlight" both hitting home, with the latter tune even prompting a "Mogis" chant from the crowd after it finished in support of Oberst's longtime musical partner Mike Mogis.
Oberst really seemed to enjoy the chant (encouraging it even), and joked that "there's more where that came from" before the band tore into "Arc Of Time," which really gave the performance the mid-show kick that it needed, as the wild rhythms and Conor's earnest vocals drove the song forward. Oberst was clearly at ease at this point in the set, telling the crowd: "We've had a lot of good times in this city, and in this room in particular. It's the second best place to home. And the people of First Avenue always treat us so well....they even had a bottle of red wine from 1995 waiting here for us, which happens to be when this song was written." He then went on to dedicate a rousing version of "Falling Out Of Love At This Volume" to that bottle of wine, which proved to be one of the highlights of the set.
The rarities just kept coming, as "Going For The Gold" was next, which Oberst prefaced by saying, "We haven't played this next one in a long time. It's about authenticity." And, quite frankly, Bright Eyes whole set was about authenticity, because you could tell on each and every number that Oberst and the band were genuinely lost in the music they were making and the thrill of performing live. "Cartoon Blues" and a fiery version of "Hot Knives" only built on that momentum, with the wildly lit screen behind the stage only adding to the spectacle. And Conor was clearly in a talkative mood at this point (perhaps because of that red wine), taking some time before they played "A Machine Spiritual" to explain: "A lot of people find this next song confusing, and normally I would apologize for that. But I gave up apologizing for Lent. This one kind of swings for the fences and I hope at least one of you catches it." And plenty of people did.
"Old Soul Song" (which Oberst dedicated to Michele Bachmann, calling her "clearly the most reptilian woman I've ever seen") and "The Calendar Hung Itself" were both stellar, and appeared to close the set as the band left the stage. But Oberst stuck around to play a stunning acoustic version of "First Day Of My Life," which he dedicated to a couple who were in the audience. It was a tender, true love song, and was as moving as live music can be.
The encore began with the rest of the band setting the indelible beat for "Gold Mine Gutted" before Oberst eventually strolled out to join them. It was a high-spirited rendition, which the band only built on with turbulent versions of "Lover I Don't Have To Love" and "Road To Joy" (both of which were augmented by Nate Walcott's subtle trumpet playing), which really found everyone on stage letting loose in a wild, cacophony of sound. The set really should have ended there, but there was time for one more new song, as the evening closed with "One For You, One For Me." There was a little bit of everything within this Bright Eyes performance, ardent new songs and heartfelt classics. And no matter if you preferred the old or the new material, it was just great to see Conor Oberst playing Bright Eyes songs again.
Critic's Bias: I have been a fan since the moment I heard "A Perfect Sonnet."
The Crowd: It was probably the least packed sold-out show I've been to at First Avenue, with a surprising amount of room to move.
Overheard In The Crowd: Thankfully, not all that much from where I was standing. I was expecting a lot of "I love you Conor," which thankfully never happened.
Random Notebook Dump: Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott all went over to the 400 Bar after the show for Conor's first DJ set, which he claimed was "ridiculous." He said he didn't know what was expected of him, and that he probably was just going to put some music on that he likes, and sit there listening to it through his headphones.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson.
Take It Easy (Love Nothing)
Trees Get Wheeled Away
Arc Of Time
Falling Out Of Love At This Volume
Going For The Gold
A Machine Spiritual (In The People's Key)
Old Soul Song
The Calendar Hung Itself
First Day Of My Life
Gold Mine Gutted (Encore)
Lover I Don't Have To Love (Encore)
Road To Joy (Encore)
One For You, One For Me (Encore)