Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Anthony D'Amato
02/10/2005 | Upstagemagazine.com | www.upstagemagazine.com | Album Review
Bright Eyes took the stage of the beautifully ornate Philadelphia Academy of Music on Friday, January 28th in front of a full house. The tour, promoting Bright Eyes' two simultaneously-released albums, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn," featured three nights at Town Hall in New York City before hitting Philadelphia.

Tilly and the Wall opened the show with their unique brand of rock/pop that featured tap dancing for percussion. With well-crafted songs and great harmonies from some very talented vocalists, Tilly and the Wall were able to make their tapping, which might seem like a tacky gimmick at first, work wonders for their sound, particularly on songs like "Fell Down the Stairs" and "Nights of the Living Dead." CocoRosie, another band featuring alternative percussion, took the stage next. Instead of a drummer, CocoRosie includes a beat-boxer. However, CocoRosie lacked the appeal and stage presence, in the face of bands like Bright Eyes and Tilly and the Wall, to pull it off. The weirdness of the group seemed forced. The beatboxer wore a full Native American headdress, bizarre animations were projected onto a screen beside the band, the lead singer played sound effects from toy cars into the microphone, and her voice, whether a planned part of the weirdness or a natural sound, was rather unpleasant.

By the time Bright Eyes took the stage, the theater was full, and the crowd went wild for the band. This tour, the ever-changing lineup of the group featured acoustic and steel guitars along with bass, drums, keyboards, and a trumpet backing up the only mainstay of the group, Connor Oberst. Oberst, the twenty-four year old singer-songwriter and originator of the group, may be recognized by fans of Bruce Springsteen from his opening slot on this fall's Vote for Change tour. His prolific songwriting and endorsements from bands like Springsteen and R.E.M. have garnered him a dizzying amount of media attention in the past few weeks, and his performance Friday night proved that he was worth every bit of it.

The show drew heavily from "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," an alt-country/rock masterpiece. Oberst opened the show with the first three songs off the album: "At the Bottom of Everything," "We Are Nowhere and It's Now," and "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)." While not a technically great singer, Oberst showed off his mastery of inflection and emotional control of his voice, which is a hallmark of his singing, on "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)," a tune about a demonstration in New York City protesting the war in Iraq. Many of the songs this time around featured a more political element to them, the most obvious of which being a new single not featured on the CD: "When the President Talks to God." Opening a song with the lines: "When the President talks to God/are the conversations brief or long?/Does he ask to rape our women's rights and send poor farm boys off to die?/Does God suggest an oil hike?" might be too risky for most artists (especially one from a conservative state like Nebraska), but Oberst is confident enough that his fan base agrees with him. There were enough cheers from the audience after each verse to suggest that a large majority of them, an even mix of men and women mostly from his own age bracket, did agree.

Oberst took over the keyboards for "A Scale, A Mirror, and These Indifferent Clocks" from his 2000 album, "Fevers & Mirrors." The only other departures from "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" were "I Must Belong Somewhere," a new, wonderfully-crafted folk/rock song, "Method Acting," and "Bowl of Oranges," both from Bright Eyes' fourth full length album, "Lifted or The Story's in the Soil, Put Your Ear to the Ground." Bright Eyes rounded out the set with Oberst's folk songwriting skills at their peak, playing "Poison Oak," an emotionally charged tune with a great buildup, "Another Travelin' Song," and "Landlocked Blues," a song which has garnered him comparisons to Bob Dylan among others.

After the main set, Oberst returned to the stage by himself for "Lua," a delicate, solo-acoustic number, before tearing into "Road to Joy" with the full band. "Road to Joy," in which Oberst borrowed the melody from Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and turned it into a rock song, ended the show at a fever pitch, emotionally and sonically. "Let's make some noise," he shouted to the band as they finished the song with a blaring cacophony of sound. Unfortunately, the venue forced the show to end exactly at 11:00 P.M., and Bright Eyes' encore was limited to two songs. The full set included fourteen songs and confirmed Oberst's place as one of the most talented young writers and performers on the scene today.

Setlist:
At the Bottom of Everything
We Are Nowhere and It's Now
Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)
A Scale, A Mirror, and These Indifferent Clocks
Train Under Water
Method Acting
I Must Belong Somewhere
When the President Talks to God
Bowl of Oranges
Poison Oak
Another Travelin' Song
Landlocked Blues
—Encore—
Lua
Road to Joy


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