Conor Oberst House of Blues September 19, 2014
I was never sad enough to be a Bright Eyes fan. Growing up in Nebraska, I was always aware of the band, as Oberst is also from there, but I was too busy enjoying the good life to get into them. Not until later on, when I gave his music more of a chance, did I slowly become a fan. More specifically, though, I became a fan of Conor Oberst.
Undeniably a great songwriter, and proving himself quite the showman as well at a moderately busy House of Blues, Oberst has brightened up his world and, to my surprise Friday night, his performance. Supported by a crack band dotting the stage around him, the mop-topped and denim-clad Oberst gave his deep catalog -- from Bright Eyes to Monsters of Folk to Desaparecidos to the Mystic Valley Band -- a new set of legs over the course of the evening.
Providing the room with much more energy than expected, Oberst had the crowd at the tip of his fingers from start to finish . While most might have been there to relive their angst-ridden teens with the Bright Eyes material, it was his newer stuff that really shone. Re-workings of those earlier songs made them sound more like a festive folk revival than the depressive tone they once sounded.
I couldn't be sure how the true fans would take the change of pace, but as the crowd moved closer to the barrier, or rather to Oberst, you could tell the evening was going to be a special one for those die-hards who paid the hefty $50 ticket price. And the show was noticeably for them; from what I gathered it was one of Oberst's better shows of the year.
But as I said, I was never sad enough for Bright Eyes, so Oberst's music never affected me like so many of my friends. So for me, this show was nothing too important. It was another notch on my live-music belt and while it was lively and fun, it didn't hit me like it did most of the room around me. And many people I ran into that night disagreed.
The majority of the room loved what was happening more than I could possibly know. I think that's mostly because Bright Eyes, and Oberst himself, are easily relatable to many of those patrons' life stories. Those songs are attached to their hearts and souls, so it was their bond to Oberst that made Friday night something special before his band even played a note. Honestly, he could have just stood onstage and recited his lyrics as spoken word and everyone would have still been pretty happy.
And because of that, because I'll never know what Oberst and his music really stand for and how they're relatable. I asked a few of my really good friends, people I can easily call my peers in terms of musical knowledge and love of live shows, to give me their two cents on the show that meant a whole lot more to them than it ever could to me.
First up is Eric Castorena, a highly talented artist who has put his stamp on album artwork and posters for both local and national acts:
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I'm not much of a reviewer. I tend to reveal my thoughts over a show with a short sentence or word: "Amazing!" or "I can't believe they covered that song or played this one song...they never play it live anymore." I've seen and kept up with Oberst over the years, since high school, and have welcomed his change of musical stylings and lyrical explorations.
I really nerd out about who's playing in his touring band, and at first I thought this performance was only going to be him and his acoustic guitar. I was pleasantly surprised to find a full band, many of whom played in [opener and tourmate] Jonathan Wilson's band, who were great earlier in the night.
Oberst was also joined by his Bright Eyes and Mystic Valley Band member, Nate Walcott. Highlights include a more guitar-focused arrangement of "Hit The Switch" from Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, "The Calendar Hung Itself" and pretty much any song where Walcott picked up the trumpet.
Next is a short review from Jonathan Conner, guitarist for up-and-coming local folk group Cavern Hymnal:
In the decade-plus since Conor Oberst last played Houston, not a year has gone by that I haven't found myself wanting him to perform again in my hometown. It was a long wait, but last night's show felt like he was making up for lost time. The songs that I fell in love with as a teenager sounded fresh and full of life, and his new ones were interesting, yet familiar, thanks largely to Jonathan Wilson and the band.
I even got my teenage geek-out moment when Conor took a dive into the crowd, and I helped hold him up while he sang "Another Travelin' Song" to close the set. It's great to know that he's still creating, and his longevity will keep bringing him back around...eventually.
The Crowd: Beards and flannel.
Overheard In the Crowd: The screams from a girl fight that struck up during one of the set's quieter moments. I'm not sure if it's a regular occurrence, but it was indicative of his more upbeat set that obviously had the beer flowing faster than usual.
Random Notebook Dump: Oberst was either really tiny or his guitar tech was a giant. Or both. Probably both. (On a side note, his guitar tech had a Felice Brothers shirt on, which made me even more excited for their show at Fitz on Thursday.)
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