Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Margaret Quamme
01/21/2005 | Columbus Dispatch | Live Show Preview
Conor Oberst, better-known as Bright Eyes, has just released two albums, one electronic and one acoustic.

On Wednesday night at Mershon Auditorium, he focused on the acoustic one, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning .

Oberst, 24, clings to a boyish image: With his dark hair flopping over a pale brow, he wore jeans and a striped beige pullover that emphasized his waiflike frame. He exuded the type of earnest sincerity that must be hard to maintain on an extended concert tour, particularly with an audience yelling lines such as "Play Free Bird !"

The singer, who frequently turned his back to the auditorium, kept audience interaction to a minimum. ("Say something, Conor!" pleaded one concertgoer, with some justification.) He identified the source of his frequent rehydration as ice water and fretted about his mistreatment the last time he appeared in Columbus but otherwise stuck to the music.

Playing guitar or occasionally keyboard, he was backed by an unremarkable band playing guitar, bass, keyboard, trumpet and drums. The band's generic sound drained the intimacy out of the quieter songs from the new album, such as We Are Nowhere and It's Now and Poison Oak . The band did add zip to the gospel-touched Train Under Water and the countrified Another Travelin Song .

The biggest hit of the evening was the bitter solo When the President Talks to God , a self-righteous screed directed at the president.

"I mainly came here to sing this song," Oberst said, and the audience was clearly happy to hear it.

Such protest songs have won the singer comparisons to Bob Dylan, but Oberst is a frail copy. His voice, self-consciously scratchy and breathless, lacks power and range, and his lyrics, in which I makes too frequent an appearance, tend toward high-school poetry, with lines such as "When everything is lonely I can be my own best friend."

Oberst followed his set with a long, extended break, during which the audience clapped dutifully for an encore.

When he returned, he was markedly more voluble and lively. He ended the show with a frantic version of the sour Road to Joy , which he described as a collaboration with Beethoven.

Bright Eyes was preceded by two bands, with long intermissions between the acts. The exuberant (and, like Bright Eyes, from Nebraska) Tilly and the Wall was notable for using a short-skirted, enthusiastic tap-dancer to generate most of its percussive sound. Maracas, tambourines and clapping also were featured heavily. The set climaxed with an odd but endearing tribute to Journey.

CocoRosie taxed the audience's patience with a long, tedious set that strained the limits of preciousness. The three band members sat in the darkness, playing a beat box and emitting high-pitched noises while animal noises played in the background and obsessive, occasionally pornographic and jerkily animated images of unicorns, horses, crying women and mustachioed figures appeared on a small screen. The group succeeded in making Bright Eyes look comparatively sensible.


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