Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Daryl Morden
02/14/2005 | Reuters | Live Show Preview
Showered with accolades as one of the most original talents in recent years, Bright Eyes (Nebraskan Conor Oberst), at 24, already is a brilliant songwriter. He's not yet, however, a great performer. But he's quite good and keeps getting better as he learns to turn his fine gifts for introspection and observation outward onstage.
Saturday's concert was the first of three consecutive nights at the beautifully restored Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles. The sold-out show drew a young crowd with some even in their early teens; take it as a sign that more discerning kids aren't simply accepting pop and rock flavors of the season, instead seeking out something deeper.
Oberst has an agitated voice that dips into a shy, brooding mode then lets loose with howls of discontent. As a songwriter, he captures details with snapshot images, then prods and pokes to find emotional resonance while also injecting social commentary both wry and bitter.
His talented, homegrown six-piece band under the Bright Eyes banner played thoughtfully arranged numbers, fleshing out the acoustic songs on his superb Saddle Creek album, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning," one of two current releases that also includes the more experimental "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn."
Although pacing was a bit staggered at times, there were many exhilarating moments. This was roots-rock for a new generation, from the waltz tempo distress of "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" to the frantic and fun Johnny Cash train-track drive of "Another Travelin' Song," where he leaped on the bass drum in near-showmanship, to the fragile life sketch of "Lua."
Alone on acoustic guitar, he spat out the caustic "When the President Talks to God," the crowd applauding his White House indictment. That anger was contrasted during the night by the rapid-fire Dylanesque wordplay in the folk-pop "Everything Must Belong Somewhere" and the starkly evocative "Landlocked Blues."
Probing and perceptive, Oberst's provocative songs are the key to his stage skills as he unlocks their full potential for layers of reward.


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