Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Chris Riemenschneider
01/17/2005 | Minneapolis Star Tribune | Live Show Preview
In these divided and cynical times, it's impossible to call one singer the voice of his generation. But after Bright Eyes' concert Saturday at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, the Nebraska folk rocker alternately known as Conor Oberst can at least be called the 20-something songwriter most in tune with the division and cynicism.

Mixing hard political attacks with soft personal epics, Oberst, 24, had Saturday's capacity crowd of 2,100 eating from his heart-stained sleeve. And that's with a setlist of mostly new material.

The audience was filled with hip youths not old enough to buy a beer, many of whom were fanatics. A long procession of them filed down to the front to take pictures of Oberst. Girls and boys hollered love-you messages between songs.

Oberst started singing as Bright Eyes at age 14, so his cult following is nothing new. He came into the mainstream last year alongside Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. on the Vote for Change tour. A brief relationship with Winona Ryder also might have helped. Emphasize "might have."

He matches that growing notoriety with a bold new album, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," one of two CDs he has coming out Jan. 25 (the more experimental CD, "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn," wasn't paid any mind Saturday).

The show started with the first three songs on "Wide Awake," including the imaginative, poem-like opener, "At the Bottom of Everything" and one of the album's best cuts, "Old Soul Song," a rather simple, folky number that turned wild. The tunes came alive on stage with a six-piece band re-creating the CD's twangy but elegant sound, including pedal-steel guitar parts and bits of horn.

Oberst threw in a couple of songs even newer than these.

He drew an early standing ovation for one tentatively titled "When the President Talks to God," featuring a Molotov cocktail of lines ("Does he tell him to rape women's rights [and] send poor farm kids off to die?"). Performing the song solo, Oberst delivered the seething lines with a wryness akin to Bob Dylan in "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)."

Following a few older and lighter-hearted songs - "The Difference in the Shades" and crowd-favorite "Method Acting" - the political tone continued at show's end with more songs from "Wide Awake."

Both the rousing closer "Road to Joy" and the soft, plucky "Landlocked Blues" referred to the war in Iraq. The latter song posed the simple solution, "If you walk away, I'll walk away." However naive it might have sounded, the song made perfect sense to Saturday's young, adoring crowd.


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