I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Most stunning was the solo acoustic rendition of "Lua" in the encore, which featured the delicate tenor of Conor Oberst promising a roller coaster of heartbreak to any lover who braves him. In its three spare minutes, it brought everything that makes the 25-year-old brilliant — deeply insightful and descriptive lyrics, a shaky whisper-sing and superb musicianship — to the forefront.
Omaha native Oberst has already released a half-dozen proper albums under the moniker Bright Eyes in the past decade, including two albums earlier this year. While he utilizes a revolving cast of backing musicians, everything is his creation, his vision and his mess.
Oh, but it can be a beautiful mess, just as it was during the sold-out show at Kingsbury Hall.
The backing of a six-piece band helped bring new textures to many older Bright Eyes songs, especially the soaring "Sunrise, Sunset," which was driven by a harp. "Arienette" began quietly and swelled for a tightly executed, noisy finale not heard on the recorded version, while a roaring slide guitar anchored an expansive version of "Old Soul Song (for The New World Order)."
Between the pinnacles, however, there were failures. Oberst often acted disinterested, the vocals were muddled, and the guitars seemed constantly out-of-tune and distorted. And on a half-dozen songs, the band became a multiheaded hydra, which turned songs such as "False Advertising" and a new song, "Napoleon's Hat," into chaotic disasters.
Yet it is the existence of problems that makes Bright Eyes a compelling live show and Oberst one of the America's most talented artists. As opposed to being a well-oiled machine, he is a whiny, self-obsessed drunk who can write circles around almost anyone and is not afraid to take excessive musical risks. He is, for all intents and purposes, Jackson Pollock in a musical world dominated by Thomas Kinkades.
Running counter to the Bright Eyes musical chaos was opener Willy Mason, who played an acoustic set accompanied only by a double bass. Despite the challenges of being an unknown opening for two other bands and standing on a stage much too big for one man, his performance was an entertaining, masterful mix of blues and folk.
Mason's lyrics were also exceptional, telling stories of travel (or leaving, as he described them) and social commentary. Standouts among his 45-minute set included "Gotta Keep Moving," "Oxygen" and "Hard Hand To Hold," both from his 2004 album "Where The Humans Eat."
Also opening were Scottish new-wave punks Sons and Daughters. Although dramatic, their death-obsessed songs became repetitive by the end of their set.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3