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Bright Eyes AT Radio City Music Hall, Wednesday, March 10th, 2011: Oh, Mercy

“Mercy”

The last two words we heard as we left Radio City Music Hall last night, was Mercy, repeated twice,,once by Conor Oberst and once by Denny Brewer.

Mercy is a quality of the mind unique to humans because it is based upon empathy, and to be empathic one must have memory.

And, of course, memory is why humans rule the world (for now).

It is odd that Bright Eyes, which began its life as solipsism teenage romantics, should find themselves today politically charged in a world of science, science fiction and world colonialism.

But it goes back to mercy… mercy , and, as Brian Wilson once noted, its twin, love.

And there is the heart of Bright Eyes and Wednesdays mediocre set can’t change that.

Sitting next to me is Laurie, a 24 year old 4th grade teacher, and her kid sister, 19 year old Eva. Eva has the words Bright Eyes tattooed on both wrists. I asked Laurie who else she listens to besides Bright Eyes, she looks at me blankly for a moment. “Not anybody really.” She replies. “If it ain’t broke why fix it?”

It ain’t broke for sure but last night Conor, Nate Wolcott, and Mike Mogis, decided to shake it up, going deep, deep, deep into their catalogue, and leaving me turning to Laurie and asking her the name of quite a few songs.

We don’t get “Lua”. We don’t get “Train Under Water”. We don’t get “June on The West Coast”. We don’t get “Nothing Was Crossed Out” -to my immense disappoint. And though we do hear a splendid version of “Hot Knives” so does everyone else,  nothing quite makes up for this obtusely paced set drawn up for die hard Bright Eyes fan.

The set is parenthesized in two illuminated shells, and the lights are distracting. The band opens with the throat clearing  “Firewall”, Dr. Phil sound alike Denny nutterring on. A weak song but it makes sense in context. Much better is “Jejune Stars”, a marriage song if ever there was one and the band nail it to the ground: that wonderful riff is all thrust forward . They continue with “Take It Easy (Love Or Nothing)”  -a strong version with an extended coda of singular beauty and a completely magnetic handling of the riff.

AND THEN “HOT KNIVES” …  A highlight of Cassadega, “”When I do wrong, I am with God,” she thought “When I feel lost, I am not at all” resonates hard and Laurie, who has sung along to every song so far, sings more emphatically still. The band are tight and crisp,  7 piece, unlike the crowded stages on his 2007 tour. They are anonymous, behind Conor, who isn’t as friendly as usual. It feels like he is holding back a bit.

And then the set goes deep and loses me for half an hour while I rely on Laurie to tell me what I am listening to. Is that “Padriac My Prince”?  “An Attempt To Tip The Scales”> It sounds good but it also sounds distanced. It isn’t what I want to hear.

Then Conor gets political, noting he wrote “Trees get Wheeled Away” at the start of the second gulf war in 2003  and the war is going on still and if we go into Libya, that’ll make three wars against Islamic nations. “Why don’t we just go in and carpet bomb the Middle East?” He wonders. Back to love and mercy and war and death.

Conor dedicates four songs to everybody from Namcy(?) to the Wild Flag drummer? That and the polemic is as talkie as he gets.

From there through the end of the set, the only crowd fave (but not the only Laurie fave) is a lovely “Poison Oak” plus horn. They end the set with “The Ladder Song”… Ugh. What were they thinking of?

We only get three songs for the encore. A terrific, better than recorded, “Lover I Don’t have To Love” and a “Road To Joy” with everybody singing along to “make some noise”. Perhaps the sole unbridled, enthusiastic response all night.

The band ends with “One For You, One For Me” and the request for mercy which sends us home.

Laurie had been waiting to see Bright Eyes again since 2005 and she was very, very happy to be in close proximity, but even she admitted we could’ve written a better setlist (shit, we could have just taken the Motion Sickness live album and thrown in a coupla newbies).

It is not that this was by any stretch of the imagination a BAD SET. It wasn’t, the band sounded just terrific, no country twang  but indie and ambient werecompletely under their spell. Conor is in fine voice, and sometimes i’ve heard him croaking.

It is deep, intelligent , loving, a pure please.

But it is misjudged, meandering, badly paced.

It seems like Conor let his ambition and scope (he has a huge catalogue to choose from) get the better of him.

The quality of mercy is not strained, Conor. Keep your eye on your audience.

Setlist

Firewall

Jejune Stars

Take It Easy (Love Nothing)

Hot Knives

An Attempt To Tip The Scales

Padriac My Prince

We Are Nowhere And It Is Now

Shell Games

Approximate Sunlight

Arc Of Time

Triple Spiral

Cleanse Song

Trees Get Wheeled Away

No One Would Riot For Less

Beginner’s Mind

Bowl of Oranges

Old Soul Song

Poison Oak

The Calender Hung Itself

Ladder Song

Encore

Lover I Don’t Have To Love

Road To Joy

One For You, One For Me

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