There may not be another artist today so overtly and capably ripping off the rambling, verse-upon-verse epics Dylan has perfected over the years, but the expectation that comes with the "new Dylan" tag is too heavy for anyone to bear. A few of Oberst's songs may have invited the comparison, but he's never really welcomed it, and so it was great to hear his band break out of that mold last night at the 9:30 Club.
Not reinvention, though, so much as simple growing up. The new songs are a little fuller, a little more resigned, and the performances a little shaggier. The muscular, rocking "Black Comedy" was a welcome dip into the back catalog (from the 2004 EP One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels), only to be bested by the sprawling, Crazy Horse-styled "Stray Dog Freedom." The set's variety was good, too: "Four Winds," the title track of their recent EP, nailed woozy Americana – French horn and violin blaring – a la Springsteen's latest Seeger Sessions, and "Reinvent the Wheel" was catchy midtempo rock featuring the night's biggest surprise. Oberst's friend and frequent collaborator M. Ward showed up – ballcap low over his eyes, back to the stage – and knocked out a couple twangy, textured guitar solos. Things quieted down as Oberst and Ward dueted on the lovely, Ward-penned "Lullaby and Exile."
The band continued, perfectly ragged and loose, through Neva Dinova's(guitarist Jake Bellows's other band) quaint pop song "Yellow Datsun," and closed with "Soul Singer in a Session Band," a rousing trad-rock tune off their forthcoming full-length Cassadega. Then Bright Eyes left the stage, the 9:30 crowd did its usual half-assed cheering for an encore, and the band came back out anyway. They kept digging deep through their older material, pulling out "June on the West Coast" before closing with the shambling, but triumphant "Make War." Call him an indie rock Dylan or whatever you want — the once-meek troubadour keeps learning tricks from a hundred great songwriters and fusing them into something familiar but unmistakeably Bright Eyes. Which, in case you weren't sure, is a good thing.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3