It's often said by Bright Eyes fans that they grew up listening to Conor Oberst, and it's not hard to see why the Nebraskan was a popular teenage choice throughout the last decade- the rite of passage that youths experienced with the angst-filled fury of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain throughout the 90's was passed on to Oberst at the turn of the century with 'Fevers & Mirrors', an album dripping with anxiety, fear and rage that spoke to a generation of young listeners while impressing critics at the same time. Listening back, it's easy to forget that Oberst was near the same age as those he was speaking to, and while we were busy growing up to a Bright Eyes soundtrack, he was getting older as we listened with recent albums Cassadaga and The People's Key all but confirming a departure from the raw sound of his earlier work in favour of a matured approach.
Tonight was telling as far as the current mentality and direction of Conor Oberst goes, beginning with his choice of venue- The National Concert Hall was host to the Bright Eyes frontman and made for a very different kind of concert experience with it's formal style. As last calls were made for the shows beginning, the middle aged audience was seated in a hushed venue and you could have mistaken the event for a play rather than a rock and roll performance. It all felt rather civilised for the Bright Eyes frontman, with this delicate acoustic setting a far cry away from the in-your-face angsty yelps of the bands early years.
Oberst arrived on stage to rapturous applause and got down to it quickly with Bright Eyes classics including ''The Big Picture'' and ''First Day Of My Life'', and there was a strange air of comfort in the Omaha man's performance, notorious previously for his disasterous live shows, which frequently included heavy drinking, sloppy peformances and a sick bucket for intense stage fright. His interaction with the crowd began slowly and developed into a warm, polite and even playful (perhaps most notably as he jumped off stage during ''Laura Laurent'' to hug the entire front row and engage them in a chorus of ''la, la, la's'' for the last minute of the song) relationship with descriptive song introductions and amusing interactions with other onstage performers.
Oberst's song choice leaned very much in favour of quieter classics in order to set the intimate vibe that glowed all around the hall as songs such ''Arienette'', ''Cape Canaveral'' and ''Classic Cars'' set the mood perfectly. Credit is well deserved also for Ben Brodin, a friend of Oberst and multi talented musician who regularly switched from guitar to piano to xylophone throughout the set while Samantha Stone provided her exceptional vocals and violin skills to proceedings, and it must be said that both performers added an extra layer of beauty to an already stellar performance, particularly in the case of ''Laura Laurent'', ''An Attempt To Tip The Scales'' and ''Make War''.
All in all, despite this being billed simply as Conor Oberst, the set read like a greatest hits collection of Bright Eyes with 12 of the 20 songs played taken from Oberst's most famous creation. His claim prior to the release of The People's Key last year was that he wanted to ''clean it up, lock the door, say goodbye'' after their seventh studio album is still ringing in many fans ears and it seemed to me that tonight Oberst was hand picking his favourite songs of the last 15 years, indicating the possibility that this low-key tour was in fact a way of closing the book on Bright Eyes and moving on.
Regardless, Conor Oberst has never seemed such a content, satisifed and genuinely happy person in all the years we've known him, and it shone throughout his performance- for this, tonight will be remembered fondly for those who were there and if it happens to be the last we see of Bright Eyes for a while what a wonderful way to leave.
The Big Picture
First Day Of My Life
Going For The Gold
Lenders In The Temple
Night At Lake Unknown
At The Bottom Of Everything
You Are Your Mothers Child
An Attempt To Tip The Scales
Waste Of Paint
Review by Andrew Lambert