Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Nina Garin
02/14/2005 | San Diego Union Tribune | Live Show Preview
In high school you've got two basic types: those who get picked on and those who do the picking. With his super-skinny frame, a collection of sensitive poems and floppy hair that falls in his eyes, Conor Oberst of the indie-folk outfit Bright Eyes, is the kind of guy who gets teased. High school may be over for Nebraska's Oberst, but as Friday night's concert proved, creating a record label, putting out six albums before age 25 and once dating actress Winona Ryder doesn't keep the bullies away.

Taking the stage at downtown's Spreckels Theatre with six band members, (including Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel) Oberst opened his 90-minute set with "At the Bottom of Everything" from his latest album, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning."

Because pieces of the old, ornate theater's roof fall to the stage when loud music is played, Oberst first performed under a giant, green umbrella.

Not that he was asking for it, but . .
"
Hey, Conor, what's that song about?" someone heckled from the balcony after the country-tinged band played, "Old Soul Song (for the New World Order)." "Is it about umbrellas?" another heckler asked.

Visibly annoyed, Oberst shot back with some four-letter word insults.

"You came to listen to music, not look at my pretty face," he also said.

But before playing his fifth song, "I Must Belong Somewhere," the umbrella was taken away.

"Now you can't call me a (sissy)," he said.

Removing a prop, however, wasn't necessary for Oberst to keep his hecklers in check. His diverse show of beautifully sensitive songs had the predominantly teenage audience mesmerized.

His shivering voice and melancholy trumpet playing by Nate Walcott on "We Are Nowhere and It's Now," (a song he sings with Emmylou Harris on his record) were given a lonely desert feel.

A few songs later, Oberst walked over to the keyboard for "Attempt to Tip the Scales" from the "Fever & Mirrors" album, and frantically played the keys with one hand and screamed into the microphone held in his other.

But where Oberst really connected with his audience was through his song lyrics about love desperate love, lost love, pure love and everything in between.

"Yours is the first face that I saw, I think I was blind before I met you," he sang on "First Day of My Life."

By the second half of the show, the hecklers quieted down. Instead, girls repeatedly cried out, "I love you, Conor!"

The concert, which also featured performances by Neva Dinova and Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter, leaned toward politics, especially during "When the President Talks to God."

Playing his storytelling rant on an acoustic guitar, Oberst resembled a young Bob Dylan, voicing his gentle anger to a totally converted audience.

And in the end, no matter how much he was teased, Oberst and his soulful music had the final say both for the musician and for his crowd of fellow high school misfits.


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