The People's Key
Author: Simon Price
2/20/11 | London Indpendent | www.independent.co.uk | Live Show Preview
St Valentine's Day, and someone in the Scala crowd wishes Conor Oberst a happy one. Clearly, they've never met him before."It's really nice of you to join us," says the tremulous anti-romantic. "You really should be having an awkward dinner with your significant other ...." Quick as a shot, another heckler replies, "We're all single!"If you want to pull a lonely indie boy with facial hair, then a Bright Eyes gig on 14 February is one big supermarket and everything's reduced to clear. There's no denying that Oberst and his band have always spoken eloquently to sensitive young men with vulnerable hearts.When Oberst first arrived on the scene in the late Nineties _ a socialist, atheist, precociously perceptive poet of heartbreak in the tradition of Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame _ he was a beautiful boy from Nebraska who sang with a quivering intensity which gave the impression that, if he didn't become a folk singer, he would surely die.What happens when beautiful young boys pass the age of 30? Are they meant to snap out of it, quit singing in that sob-choked voice and man up? Is there a Logan's Run-style retirement age for showing your feelings? No, a thousand times no. By carrying on wearing his fragile soul like an open wound, Oberst is effectively saying: "You know all those things I used to say and believe? It wasn't just teenage angst. I actually meant them. That's how life really feels."His world view is remorselessly bleak. "Four Winds" imagines "bodies decomposing in containers tonight" (a possible reference to Series 2 of The Wire). But even the name Bright Eyes is enough to set the bottom lip a-tremble, if you're of a delicate disposition, redolent as it is of Art Garfunkel's "following the river of death downstream". You're already softened up, tear ducts moistening, ready for the kill. When Oberst actually starts singing, all bets are off.New album The People's Key flirts with electronica, a constant sub-thread in the career of a man generally viewed as a traditional troubadour. Tonight's epic 23-song set finds room for both styles, meaning that the post-Portishead downtempo drum machines of new track "Approximate Sunlight" can be followed by the rolling acoustic waltz "We Are Nowhere and It's Now".The beardy boys lap it up with adoring devotion. Everyone knows the words to new single "Shell Games", even though the parent album didn't come out until the next day on Oberst's 31st birthday.