Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Scott McLennan
11/25/2005 | Worcester Telegram and Gazette | Album Review
There has never really been an adequate definition of "indie
rock," other than it serving as a label for music that tends to sell on a
smaller scale compared to popular mainstream offerings and for tunes
typically given voice via college radio.

The concert by Bright Eyes, Feist and The Magic Numbers on Tuesday at The
Palladium shed more light on what it means to be one of rock's indie
operators.

Two of the acts - Feist and The Magic Numbers - released their latest albums
through major record labels, so source has little to do with indie. Instead
it boils down to execution. In each case, Bright Eyes, The Magic Numbers and
Feist presented music that featured exquisite craftsmanship, finely detailed
songs that demanded a certain amount of attention to be fully appreciated.

And making such a demand in the age of "impress me now or I'm outta here"
explained why such a concert unfolds before an appreciative couple of
thousand people instead of before a screaming horde in an arena.
Odds are that what went down in The Palladium on Tuesday would not have
translated all that well in a bigger setting anyway.

The seven-piece Bright Eyes certainly had the musical muscle to sound big,
yet band leader Conor Oberst unfurls songs that are conversational and
confessional and seem to best resonate within confines offering a certain
intimacy.

Take, for example, his ode to the musician's peripatetic life, "We Are
Nowhere and It's Now." Bright Eyes scrubbed all the cliches off such a
well-worn topic and transformed it into a poetic musing on yearning and
grounding. Put the same kind of song in an arena setting and you end up with
a piece of hokum like Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."

And some of the night's more powerful moments came when Oberst dedicated
songs to two women in the audience going through long and difficult
recoveries. His messages of optimism and faith directed at them through song
turned a touching gesture into galvanizing performances, making the simple
"True Blue," for instance, sound quite eloquent.

Oberst's latest incarnation of Bright Eyes played songs from throughout his
storied underground career that became much more noticed last year when he
teamed with Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. for the Voters for Choice concerts.
Sabrina Dulm's harp playing opened Bright Eyes' set with the rest of the
band falling in to begin the show with Oberst's update on "Sunrise, Sunset."

Oberst's mixture of anxiety, curiosity and precociousness colored the
selections as he moved through the 15-song show. The heartbreak kid vowed "I
Won't Ever be Happy Again;" he looked for revolution in the country
trappings of "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order);" and he found
philosophy in a "Bowl of Oranges."

Every member of Bright Eyes multi-tasked his and her way through the
chamber-pop arrangements, layering horns, keys, bass, drums, vibes,
lap-steel guitar and other vintage tones over Oberst's generally well-turned
lyrics. Even when the guy was spouting off bitter lines in "False
Advertising" about being in a cage and how people now just listen to his
songs for mistakes, he came off as sincere and reflective rather than whiny
and spoiled. In short, Bright Eyes earned whatever respect it garnered
through the performance.

The night was not necessarily easy pickings for Oberst as his openers nearly
stole the show, particularly The Magic Numbers.

The brothers-and-sisters quartet from England sang joyous pop songs with an
infectious verve. The Magic Numbers' folksy underpinnings forced it to place
some delicate sounds atop an otherwise driving and catchy sound. And the
band pulled it off, evidenced by the wild cheers given melodica solos played
by Angela Gannon (whose brother Sean Gannon is the drummer). The band mainly
played songs off its self-titled debut album, opening with "Mornings Eleven"
and displaying a facility with many eras of pop sounds through versions of
"Long Legs" and "Don't Give Up the Fight." The warmth of the recorded
versions of the song was traded in for a more energetic reading of the
material on stage without any loss to the sweet vocal harmonizing and clever
musical arrangements driven by guitarist and singer Romeo Stodart and his
bass-playing, vocalizing sister Michele Stodart.

Feist deployed her technically devastating voice through a quirky set that
did not always do justice to her raw talent. But when she tackled the jazzy
"Gatekeeper" and the Ron Sexsmith ballad "Secret Heart," Feist was purely
mesmerizing. Feist took risks that did not always pan out, but she did get
an endorsement for her efforts when Oberst ambled on stage for a ragged duet
with her.


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