Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Dan DeLuca
11/21/2005 | Philadelphia Inquirer | www.philly.com | Live Show Preview
Indie-rock fans had not one but three reasons to circle the date of
Saturday night's sold-out show at the Academy of Music.

Headliner Bright Eyes - the nom de stage of the tortured Nebraska
songwriting wunderkind Conor Oberst - returned for a career-surveying show
after an Academy concert this year that focused on I'm Wide Awake, It's
Morning, the stronger of his two 2005 albums.

He was supported by two buzz acts: Feist, fronted by charismatic Canadian
chanteuse Leslie Feist, and the Magic Numbers, the London band that
specializes in richly harmonized soft-rock songs that cheer the spirit even
as they detail messy romance.

The Magic Numbers got it started, with bearded leader Romeo Stodart flanked
by his bassist sister Michele and melodica-blower Angela Gannon, whose
drummer-brother Sean completes the foursome. As the women's entwined vocals
ascended toward the Greek deities painted on the ceiling, Romeo Stodart
reveled in mildly rootsy '60s pop-derived songs that were sometimes
heavenly, sometimes pedestrian. A good band that's been overhyped.

Feist followed, and was divine. The breakout artist from the Canuck
collective Broken Social Scene led an understated outfit that made use of
vibraphone and Hammond B-3 organ as her sultry voice slid gracefully from
gentle bossa nova to percolating jazz-pop. Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart"
rocked out with an itchy aggressiveness not heard on the low-key version on
Feist's terrific Let It Die. And the set ended with Oberst onstage for a
spirited duet on the bouncy "Mushaboom."

Bright Eyes got so much attention in January when he released I'm Wide Awake
and its electronic companion, Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, that it was a
relief to have Oberst go away for a while. Saturday's show was a reminder of
what all the fuss was about.

As chroniclers of their own emotional turmoil go, Oberst counteracts a
tendency toward self-pity with a broad musical vocabulary, a rock poet's way
with words, and an eagerness to assay the big subjects, as he did on the
show's careening 10-minute closer, "Let's Not S- Ourselves (To Love and Be
Loved)." The song took on cowboy presidents and media propagandizing, the
selfishness of a suicide attempt, and the realization that the parenthetical
title phrase is the best any of us can hope for.

While it was put across with particularly cathartic desperation, it capped a
frustratingly brief show that featured two songs from Digital, "Hit the
Switch" and "Gold Mine Gutted," recast by an expert band whose
unconventional instruments included harp, clarinet, trumpet and pedal-steel
guitar.

The set drew heavily on Fevers & Mirrors (2000) and Lifted... (2002), plus
three impressively varied new songs, while virtually ignoring the acclaimed
I'm Wide Awake. It was as if to say: "OK, people, you might have just heard
of me this year. But there's plenty more where that came from."


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