Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Brian Wong
01/21/2005 | | | Album Review
Let's give props to the all-ages crowd - well, Conor Oberst's all-ages crowd, at least.

At a sold-out Phoenix, the adult indie crowd and its large proportion of overgrown bangs found themselves mingling with their younger and shorter siblings. The kids, many of them young females who likely regard Oberst's lonely-boy poetics as important as Shakespearean tragedies, gave up lust-filled shrieks when Omaha's pint-sized heartthrob entered the no-frills stage, looking demure in a hoodie. However, rather than turn this show into full-blown teen idol worship (which is the sort of thing reserved for Dashboard Confessional shows), the kids were respectfully quiet and aside from many shouts of "I love you, Conor!" they gave their rapt attention to Oberst's lyrical storytelling.

The lyrics were delivered with wonderful clarity, often a rare thing at a rock show. With his vocals pushed way up in the mix, Oberst gems like "On the way home held your camera like a bible/Just wishing so bad that it held some kind of truth" (from the baroque pop-rock number "Old Soul Song") weren't lost in Phoenix's big box or amongst his tight six-piece ensemble.

Rounded out by keyboards and trumpet, the band gave grand, full-bodied renditions of the songs of I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, the country half of his two new releases (a separate tour to promote Morning's electronic brother Digital Ash In A Digital Urn is planned for later this year). Almost all of Morning's material was covered, leaving little room for Oberst's prolific back catalog - only Lifted's urgent "Method Acting," Letting Of The Happiness' "Padriac My Prince" and the b-side "Loose Leaves" represented the other recorded Bright Eyes material. But the crowd didn't seem to mind too much; applause greeted most of Morning's mix of rollicking blues and twang balladry - and the record, though on sale at the show, wasn't even available in stores yet.

Oberst himself was a commanding presence, a difficult thing to pull off when you're a short little guy under the weight of all those "boy genius" accolades. The achingly gorgeous solo "Lua" was as powerful as his country whoops on "Another Travellin' Song" or the spitting hatred of the concert staple, "When The President Talks To God," showing that a bare, tender-hearted whisper is as potent as his delirious fits of caterwauling about pills, death and insecurities. Add that to mic-stand-toppling and his reckless jumping on to the bass drum during the closer "Road To Joy," (which was turned into a killer free-jazz jam) and suddenly Oberst looked like a confident, if still messy, rock hero.

And yes, in every tragedy, heroes fall - in this case, literally. During "Old Soul Song," Oberst tripped and toppled backwards on to the floor. Stage hands rushed to prop him up, as he continued playing his guitar while down. It's probably a moot point, but with all Oberst's allusions to falling, he probably doesn't have to worry - I'm sure every girl in the audience was ready and willing to pick Oberst up.