Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: Chris Riemenschneider
04/27/2007 | Minneapolis Star Tribune | www.startribune.com | Live Show Preview
The more that Bright Eyes bandleader Conor Oberst is heralded as a rock star, the more he really acts like one.

Wednesday's nearly sold-out concert by the Omaha native and his ever-changing band at the State Theatre was full of grandiose gestures - physical and musical - that were sometimes charming and sometimes distracting but, all told, made for a pretty amusing and adventurous show.

A 15-year music veteran at 27, Oberst took the flower-adorned stage in a white, Lennon-esque suit that matched the all-white attire of his 10-member band. The sheer size of his group seemed a tad highfalutin. It included a small string section and two female percussionists, one of whom was indie-rock hero Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, also a player on the new Bright Eyes album, "Cassadaga."

With the fantastical show opener "Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)" - the first song on "Cassadaga" - the large ensemble indeed sounded overinflated, in a Wilco-wannabe way. However, the frilly and flowery affair soon blossomed into something quite potent in the frayed and hyper epic "Hot Knives." Another new gem about growing up and selling out, "Middleman," found the band playing a sophisticated orchestral-country sound.

During these and other highlights, Oberst and Co. seemed to be melding the two wildly diverse sounds of their simultaneously released 2005 albums: the staticky electronic collection "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and the twangy alt-folk "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" (at least he avoided another grandiose title with the new CD). Oddly, though, they picked sparsely from these albums, with "I Believe in Symmetry" and "Road to Joy" joining other oldies such as "False Advertising" and "Lime Tree."

A rocking update of Beethoven, "Road to Joy" came off as desperate showmanship at show's end, with Oberst swinging and straddling his guitar, jumping into the crowd and blabbing at length before it began. The rest of the encore, though, sounded as starry-eyed and high-strung as Oberst acted, including the elegant and operatic "Make a Plan to Love Me" and the buoyant new single "Four Winds."

New York buzz band Oakley Hall, one of the show's two opening acts, earned a warm reception with its spacey instrumentation and twangy boy-girl harmonies. At its best, the coed ensemble sounded like a pairing of college-rockers such as Yo La Tengo with the timeless duets of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
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