rock nyc’s Tenth Anniversary Celebration: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band live at Toad’s Place July 3rd, 2009: Conor’s ravished voiced saved by cracking Mystic Band
(In 2009, Conor Oberst was the greatest rock star in the world whether we liked it or not. Rather than go to battery park later that week for a free concert, I went to Connecticut with my ex Marie Lynn. It was worth the trip -IL)
Halfway into his first vocal on the jaunty “Sausalito” it is clearly apparent Conor’s voice is shot. He isn’t hoarse, he isn’t out of tune, he simply has no relationship with his carefully crafted melody. Conor isn’t singing it, he is phrasing it. But it really doesn’t matter, his band seem to be carrying forward by sheer willpower and what the song loses in tunefulness it gains by leaps and bounds as the Mystic Valleyers shows what a great boss and a year on the band can do a band. It’s been twelve months since i caught em at “Other Music” and eight months since Terminal 5 and they are a much better band.
But first LA indies Michael Runyon and the Royal Family performed a fine set of singer-songwriter bop and Deep Sea Diver I would have much preferred if I’d known their acute and angular alternative rock songs. Marie Lynn loved the diver girls’ voice.
Conor, wearing an intensely annoying big black hat, programmed an excellent set that for the most part worked to his facilities last night. He introduced a rousing “Danny Callahan” as a love song, a bitter “Lenders In the Temple” (with Nate Walcott’s beautiful and understated keyboards) as a song about how you can get any where in this world if you’re willing to kill babies in their cribs.” And as “A religious” song? One of Oberst’s greatest of all time, “Cape Canaveral” -an infuriating version I felt he could have sung properly if he pushed himself harder (Marie Lynn thinks I am being too harsh. Check it out yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5jaykbhzdE ). Maybe he’s saving himself for today’s free concert at Battery Park.
It was on the rockers the band blew it up, “Nikorette” pounded and the audience adored it singing along word for word (though he still hasn’t figured out how to let the audience join him in a singalong), an unreleased song about walking in the sunlight after being out all night was revelatory and better then a lot of the stuff on “Outer South” and “I Got The Reason” was everything you could hope from this beautiful, emotional charged masterpiece.
The last song is “I Don’t Want To Die (In the Hospital)” (thank god he’s dumped “Roosevelt Room”) and it is a thumping, singalong hootenanny, he gives Runyon his hat before sharing a tongue kiss and verses. The crowd is pumped, mostly local college kids with Yale out for the summer, Toad’s Place (a very nice room) is sold out, and so what if Conor can’t sing tonight?
Conor and the band might have been going through the motions last night but their going through the motions is better than most bands best. Though they don’t improvise so much they click like a Crazy Horse with a sort of integrated push for the greater good. I thought it was a bad idea putting Freitas and Walcott songs on the album but what Conor loses in recorded consistency he gains in brotherly musical intuition. During his set, Runyon mentioned how the band, including Conor, came by to watch the sound check. This is unheard of and a testament to the good vibes surrounding this terrific band.
It is real simple, there is nobody Conor Oberst’s equal making music today. He is the best.