Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Jeff Miers
11/22/2005 | Buffalo News | www.buffalonews.com | Live Show Preview
Conor Oberst has endeared himself to a young, incredibly loyal audience composed predominantly of females, and that audience was out in full effect Monday evening inside UB's Center for the Arts.
Despite some cat-calling - "I love you, Conor!" was the emotional mantra of the evening, a female refrain that urged Oberst to finally declaim, "That's great, but you don't know me, and I don't know you. If you did, you probably wouldn't love me, but hey, let's hold onto the illusion!" - this was far from a teeny bopper love-fest.

Oberst as songwriter may be more raw talent and primal emotion than maturity and depth, but as band leader and arranger, he's neigh-on brilliant, and his dark, punk-folk mini-epics were often both extremely engaging and challenging.

Dramatic and often downbeat, Oberst's songs were given wings by his stellar six-piece band, a lithe and supportive ensemble whose members switched at various points between a host of instruments, including pedal steel, electric guitar, vibes, drums, electric and acoustic bass, various keyboards, classical harp, flugelhorn, trumpet, National steel and clarinet. The sound was dense, but extremely orderly, and always supportive of Oberst's dramatic, quavering narrator's voice.

It's hard to place Oberst in a broader context. His work is idiosyncratic and self-referential, yet clearly connects on a deep emotional level with his audience; his roots seem to be in folk, and despite the "Nebraska"-like starkness of much of the material, he doesn't recall Springsteen, Neil Young or Dylan; his band goes for an almost "Pet Sounds" - like grandeur, but the harmonic construction of his songs is terse, repetitive, and not particularly idiomatic.

A tune like "You Will? You Will? . . .," for example, performed with clarity and conviction by the band, is at heart almost a spoken word piece, with Oberst's minimal guitar providing accompaniment. But with the band's additions, it becomes an expansive bit of orchestrated rock - sort of like an alt-punk-folk Phil Spector arrangement.

Oberst thrilled his crowd, clearly, pulling songs from throughout his career, and making it plain that he is about the music, not about cultivating some rock star image or kowtowing to his pretty-boy stigma.

"False Advertising" found the band skirting baroque territory with its lush ensemble playing; "Old Soul (Song for the New World Order)" was fiery and fierce; "Sunrise, Sunset" sounded a bit like Nine Inch Nails, minus the electronica and the screaming, with an even stronger sense of roiling drama.

In all, a solid, inspired performance. But one that was overshadowed by the sheer bloody brilliance of opening acts Feist and the Magic Numbers, both of whom were received warmly by the capacity crowd.

The Magic Numbers, after garnering a serious buzz during the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year, offered up a shimmering set of sunny power pop with some serious edge; at times, the quartet - which consists of two sets of brothers and sisters - called to mind adventurous '80s artists like Talking Heads and even Joy Division, but just as often, one could hear '70s pioneers like Television and Can in the stuttering rhythms and pulsating drive of vocalist Romeo Sodart's guitar playing. Lots of vocal harmonies, interesting chord progressions and an aversion to the cliche and the trite made this band an absolute pleasure.

The Magic Numbers might've stolen the show, had it not been for Feist, the nom de plume adopted by Canadian singer/guitarist Lesley Feist, known to discerning listeners as a collaborator with Broken Social Scene, Peaches, Kings of Convenience and others.

Concentrating on songs from her brilliant "Let It Die" record, Feist - with the aid of a troupe of musicians performing on various instruments, including marimba, flugelhorn, keyboards and drums - took the evening's top honors.

Based on the sheer virtuosity and emotional resonance of her singing Feist is a major talent.


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