At almost eleven on a Sunday night, when most students are studying or sleeping, Bright Eyes, né Conor Oberst, strutted onto the Foellinger Auditorium stage after two lackluster opening acts that failed to capture attention (if not his: he pimped them all night.) This was not the Bright Eyes of previous albums, a precocious strummer with a knife-wielding wit who was, erroneously of course, once called “the next Dylan.” He was a rock-star.
Throughout the set, Oberst played the cocksure lead singer of his band: he strutted in his cowboy boots and cropped jacket, jumping off the amps while spitting with abandon. Rarely did he hunch over the microphone and plaintively sing, as many of his songs suggest.
Sometimes, he positively snarled his distinctly gentle songs that barely, save for the melody, resembled their album counterparts. “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)” was feedback-full and propulsive. He prefaced the song with a rant on the sad state of the world and played it nothing like the twangy country song it is. Oberst’s acoustic guitar was sharp and the horn, played by the keyboardist, roared a melancholic countermelody.
Oberst has been building this momentum since the release of his latest, Cassadaga. It is certainly his best yet; musically lush while lyrically pointed. If anything his others have been too disjointed, a portrayal of a man lost in the detritus of the information explosion. He has finally grown into his sound and, perhaps best of all, not self-conscious in the least.
His band and Oberst moved swiftly in tune through the set. They were punky and tight, a controlled unit ready to burst into action. That night his best songs were those that crescendoed and built towards a climax where the simple drumming and interweaving guitars bellowed through Oberst’s sung intelligence and pith.
During a short encore, Oberst retracted his previous statement about the world. He played the optimistic “Bowl of Oranges,” which the crowd obligingly sang along to. As the band staggered its exit from the stage, the audience streamed out into the cool autumn night, the sudden cold a good companion to Oberst’s still-ringing melodies.