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Bright Eyes at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Seeing Conor Oberst at the Echo (as I did last September) and seeing him with his band on a large stage is a complete different adventure. Friday night, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the Bright Eyes frontman was all energy, feisty, turning around like a twister with his guitar (how many times did he do that?) making an entrance like a rock star and starting the show with an exhilarating rendition of ‘Four Winds’. Actually the whole show was almost as heavy machined as a U2 concert with pulsating lights and even smoke machines, as ecstatic as a happy pop tune, and as loud as an arena rock concert (I was in the front and I know it was an outdoor concert meant to be heard from a certain distance).

There was little question of the depressed Conor Oberst who laments his most personal and intimate confessions close to your ears, but there were a few exceptions when he did a moving ’Ladder song’ alone on piano, and a beautiful, stripped down and lively rendition of ‘Landlocked Blues’, almost alone on stage, but even then, he became passionate, singing this part like a protest song, adding more anger to the lyrics by changing ‘And he shot me dead’ to ‘And the little fucker shot me dead’; and the girl next to me was biting her nails the whole time.

Conor Oberst did not take too many risks, he and his band played many great hits off their most popular albums, 5 from ‘I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning’, 3 from ‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’, 3 from ‘Lifted’ and only 4 from their last album, ‘The People’s Key’. Of course everyone seemed to enjoy the mix, it was meant to do so, as the band was going from its signature electro pop to alt country with a beautiful lap steel guitar on ‘Poison Oak’, or an inspiring trumpet on ‘Bowl of Oranges’.

With a long-pseudo-emo haircut, Conor seemed in great shape, acting the song with the mic like during ‘Approximate Sunlight’, and being much more talkative than when I saw him last year: he dedicated the fourth song, ‘Take It Easy (Love Nothing)’ to the ‘newly deflowered virgins in the audience’, and ‘Hot knife’ to the ‘middle age women going through a mid-life crisis’, showing his funny side. At least he was recognizing the presence of an age group I had not really noticed, being surrounded by young people in their 20s.

He could not stop shouting his love for the new record of the opener, Kurt Vile, and he talked a few times about the place, saying it was their ‘first time inside these walls’, being very honored to play in the middle of ‘all these souls’, finding the place amazing and turning to be his favorite, but also showing all his appreciation for Los Angeles, where he has so many friends, and where people know how to treat their dead ‘like celebrities’, with rock concerts and some free entertainment.

Among the few tracks off ‘The People’s Key’ that they played, ‘Jejune Stars’ started like a thunderstorm, ‘The Calendar Hung Itself’, the only one in the setlist from ‘Fevers and Mirrors’ sounded like a fury, and the flashing lights during ‘Road to Joy’ made the song ending in a pulsating chaos. I am not sure why he intentionally (it had to be intentional!) did all these false starts when he sang ‘Shell Game’, repeating many times the first line ‘Took the fireworks and the vanity’, but he dedicated ‘Another Travelin’ song’ to all his friend musicians, and got some real crowd interaction toward the end of the show.

First, someone passed him a letter on stage and insisted on Conor reading it, ‘Read it? Wow, it would be embarrassing for one of us, not the best idea’, he said.

Then, after a long presentation of his musicians during which he said his friend Mike Mogis was the greatest record producer of all time, ‘No offense Phil Spector, Modest Mouse, Dr Dre,…. ‘ continuing with a long list of producers, he jumped in the pit during the last song, taking a semi-crowd bath, touching people.

But before singing ‘One for You, One for Me’ Conor went all preachy, declaring ‘The only rightest thing we can do is to take care of each other, that’s the real shit, Los Angeles’, and I said to myself, oh no Conor, you’re not gonna be the new Bono, that was becoming a little too obvious with all the ‘One’ is the lyrics of that song and U2’s own ‘One’…. No, it can’t be so. After the song Conor evaporated behind the smoke whereas the Denny Brewer’s voice was still resonating with all this non-sense about mankind, cosmos, time, enlightenment, peace, knowledge, love and mercy, mercy, mercy….

Setlist
1. Four Winds
2. Bowl of Oranges
3. Old Soul Song
4. Take It Easy (Love Nothing)
5. Jejune Stars
6. Landlocked Blues
7. Lover I Don't Have to Love
8. Shell Games
9. Approximate Sunlight
10. Arc of Time
11. Hot Knives
12. Poison Oak
13. Another travelin’ song
14. The Calendar Hung Itself
15, I Believe in Symmetry
16. Ladder Song

Encore
17. Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and to Be Loved)
18. Road to Joy
19. One for You, One for Me

 

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