I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
Bright Eyes is the band name singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, 24, a small, intense young man from Omaha, uses for an ever-changing lineup of musicians he works with in the studio and on tour. He records for Saddle Creek, a small, independent label in his hometown, for which he has been recording since the age of 12.
So he's not exactly new to a cult following that made him a regional hero years ago. He's even charted before in Billboard, only way down at the bottom. Oberst and Bright Eyes came onto the national radar just a few months ago, with two top-selling singles — "Lua," a beautiful folk-rock love song that's on the "Wide Awake" CD, and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)," a lively pop song from the more techno-oriented "Ash/Urn" album.
Since then, Oberst has been the subject of rock-media overload. In a feature in the current Rolling Stone, headlined "King of Indie Rock," he's dubbed "the best young songwriter in America." The February issue of Spin calls him "a potential pop phenom," adding, "he may also be the best songwriter of his generation." Los Angeles Times pop critic Robert Hilburn is one of Oberst's strongest supporters, calling his songwriting "exquisite" and Oberst a "visionary artist" who will "influence other musicians for years to come."
The overhype may be hard for Oberst to live up to in concert because some songs on the new albums — particularly the overwrought, wordy ones — make you wonder what all the fuss is about. However, there are enough smart, well-constructed, involving songs to make you a believer.
There are so few great young songwriters these days — a time when producers have more influence and can churn out hits for a variety of artists — that when a good one comes along, critics go ga-ga. The last one to garner such praise was Jack White of the White Stripes, who has proven that he more than deserved it, not only with his own band but with his brilliant songwriting and production work with Loretta Lynn, on her great "Van Lear Rose" CD.
Oberst, who performed in a songwriters' show at the Moore in October along with Jim James and M. Ward (which was overshadowed by Tom Waits' Paramount show the same night), still has a long way to go to make an impression as powerful as White's. Which is why the show Thursday, which will concentrate on songs from "Wide Awake" (a tour in May will be devoted to songs from "Ash/Urn"), is causing so much excitement.
Opening is Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, which records on the Seattle label Barsuk, and Neva Dinova, another Omaha band.
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