Most musicians can’t come through a city three times in less than a year and sell out every show. But as Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst sing on their new album of duets, “There’s always an exception to the rule.”
Star-in-the-making Bridgers, who joined forces with the Bright Eyes frontman to form Better Oblivion Community Center last year, filled the First Avenue Mainroom with her musical partner Friday night—the second time she’s achieved that feat in a four-month span. The 24-year-old sold out the venue as one-third of slow-and-sad indie supergroup Boygenius in November, which followed a capped-out solo set at the Turf Club last April. (And there was also a well-attended set at the nearby Eaux Claires festival in July).
Bridgers and indie-folk legend Oberst, a 39-year-old who has visited the Twin Cities no fewer than 30 times over the course of his two-decade career and last appeared here at the Palace Theatre in 2017, backed up the hype for the latest project in a pair of collaboration-happy careers to their Minneapolis faithful. They performed each of the 10 tracks from their self-titled debut, released in January, in addition to several of their own songs and a geographically appropriate cover of Tthe Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
In contrast to the mostly sleepy nature of their record, the duo injected plenty of energy into their 17-song, 90-minute set, beginning with the civic realism of “My City” and the jaunty guitar interludes of “Dylan Thomas” and continuing through punk-infused renditions of Bridgers’ “Funeral” and Bright Eyes’ “Easy/Lucky/Free,” both of which revealed the rave-up rockers hidden underneath those gloomy melodies. Like the directors of a true community center should, the singers often shared lead vocal duties on their own songs, which also included the former’s “Scott Street” and the latter’s “Lua” and “Bad Blood.”
Still, the songs from Better Oblivion Community Center served as the centerpiece, while an illustration of the titular building graffitied with the words “It will all end in tears” provided a mood-setting backdrop. The loud, cathartic “Big Black Heart” was a shining moment for the three-piece backing band that stayed onstage for much of the show, and, in an unexpected move a couple of songs later, beach balls were released into the crowd during “Exception to the Rule.” Oberst’s haunting lead on “Dominos” and Bridgers’ angelic harmonies in “Service Road” made for sublime performances of those tunes, while the upbeat standalone single “Little Trouble” fit in seamlessly with the rest of the duo’s material.
Knowing both musicians, it might be awhile before Better Oblivion Community Center’s next local board meeting. The minutes for this gathering, though, will document a classic example of two public leaders working towards a greater goal. Make sure to reserve your spot early for Bridgers’ next area appearance, because the whole town is bound to be there.
Random notebook dump: It’s odd that “Would You Rather,” Bridgers’ duet with Oberst from her incredible 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps, isn’t a staple at Better Oblivion Community Center concerts. They’ve played it six times in 14 shows, but not in Minneapolis. That’s a shame, because it’s a gorgeous tune that has gone over beautifully in a live setting, with male members of Bridgers’ band subbing in for Oberst. To see the real thing sing that song would have been exquisite.
See our complete photo gallery from the show here.
Big Black Heart
Bad Blood (Bright Eyes)
Exception to the Rule
Can’t Hardly Wait (The Replacements)
Lua (Bright Eyes)
Funeral (Phoebe Bridgers)
Didn’t Know What I Was in For
Scott Street (Phoebe Bridgers)
Easy/Lucky/Free (Bright Eyes)