He’s grown his hair long, has Conor Oberst. So now he looks like a taller, darker version of Kurt Cobain, and the absurdly young audience at the Oxford Brookes student union loved him for it. In fact, he could have farted into the microphone and sung an ode to Dick Cheney and people here would still swoon. Even the men were shouting that they wanted his babies.
And quite right too. No other artist has quite the same passion, articulacy and hell, insight in informing us exactly how fucked we all are. Governed by monsters, enslaved to an indifferent God and living lives punctuated by happinesses that are terrifyingly transient – that’s us according to Bright Eyes on 2005′s two masterpieces; I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. Oberst was trying to change our hearts and minds, and clearly among those at his feet tonight, he succeeded.
New album Cassadaga sounds more resigned. Nothing can be changed so we’re just going to have a good time. Latest single Four Winds is a jubilant indie-hoedown, and other new material showcased here was similarly upbeat (for Oberst, that is – has anyone ever seen him smile?).
He has always been one of those ‘what’s done is done’ artists so the majority of material performed tonight was new, aside from a brilliant We Are Nowhere And It’s Now from I’m Wide Awake and the odd track from even earlier Bright Eyes albums. Snarling every syllable into the microphone and looking possessed at times, Oberst can never be accused of anything short of shuddering authenticity.
He even spoke to the audience occasionally, once to tell us that multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis once studied at Oxford Brookes, and once to ask us: “Do you guys like getting high? I like getting high.” That’s seems fair, but in stark contrast to many gigs earlier in his career, he is in no way wasted and seems in control of his every musical manoeuvre and emotion throughout the night. Though only just, at times.
Also remarkable about this show was exactly how much of a band Bright Eyes have become, as opposed to merely a moniker for Oberst’s dominant talent. Mogis and the other mainstay, Nate Walcott, often roamed free on guitar and organ respectively. Both were overshadowed by Anton Patzner on electric violin, jumping around on stage with Oberst with unrestrained glee.
We have to mention that underneath the politics, anger and angst of Bright Eyes, there are some of the most affecting melodies to be heard today. This songwriting ensures Oberst is in it for the long haul (indeed his haul has been long already, having begun his recording career aged 13). At 27 the boy is now a man – and like any man of that age with literary, artistic ambitions, has realised that the horror of our world is a lost cause, so plug away with your own little ray of sunshine and show it to people in student nightclubs – this show could scarcely have been better.
Only two UK dates though? He’s huge now! We need more.