Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Renee Graham
01/25/2005 | Boston Globe | Live Show Preview
When you're anointed as a genius and tagged as the next Dylan before you're barely old enough to legally buy a beer, a couple of things can happen. Either a nascent artist crumbles beneath the expectations, or spends so much time absorbing the praise that they lose track of what earned the accolades in the first place.

The third option is Conor Oberst who, performing under the name Bright Eyes, has handled the hype splendidly, as he continues to flourish as an exciting young singer-songwriter. Performing last night at Sanders Theatre, Oberst presented his blend of challenging songs, rippling with political anger and personal angst.

Perhaps it's the Midwestern levelheadedness bred into Nebraskans like Oberst that's allowed him to grow as a musician, even though he was crowned a boy-genius when he began his recording career at age 14. Backed by a six-piece band, Oberst mostly played songs from his excellent new album, ''I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" -- one of two CDs he's releasing today. (The other is ''Digital Ash in a Digital Urn.") Reminiscent of Gram Parsons, ''I'm Wide Awake," is the more country-inflected of the two albums, but performing live, Oberst gave the songs more sinew and muscle. He kicked off his set with the rousing, ''At the Bottom of Everything," one of a number of songs to mention death and God.

With a voice somewhere between a shudder and a sigh, Oberst has a precocious talent that never becomes precious. What he lacks in vocal range, he more than makes up for with emotional lyrics delivered with very few filters. One can't help but shiver when he offers such lines as ''You were born inside of a raindrop, and I watched you falling to your death," on ''Train Under Water.'

When he sings, he sometimes jerks wildly as if wrestling with his guitar. In between songs, Oberst doesn't offer much chatter, but then again, with songs as literate and involving as ''Old Soul Song," and ''We Are Nowhere and It's Now," he says pretty much all he needs to in each verse and chorus.

Perhaps this was never more apparent than in ''When the President Talks to God," an incendiary number he performed only with an acoustic guitar, its bitter lyrics questioning the methods and motivations of the current occupant of the White House.

He also played what he introduced as ''a brand new song" called ''I Must Belong Somewhere." Sadly, it doesn't appear on either new album, but it's yet another gem from a man who seems to have an endless supply of them.

Opening for Bright Eyes was Tilly and the Wall, a Nebraska quintet complete with a tap dancer, whose footwork served as a kind of percussion for their delicate pop songs. And they were followed by CocoRosie, whose strangely affecting songs sound like what would happen if Rickie Lee Jones and Portishead were remixed by Yoko Ono and Pharrell Williams at a toy shop on the Champs-Elysees.


Releases

All »

The People's Key

The People's Key

LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3