Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Shain Shapiro
11/21/2005 | Jambase.com | /www.jambase.com | Live Show Preview
Bright Eyes, Feist, The Magic Numbers :: 11.21.05 :: University at Buffalo :: Buffalo, NY

This was the night dedicated to song. With three separate approaches to melody and structure being showcased by Bright Eyes, Feist, and The Magic Numbers at University at Buffalo's Mainstage Theatre, a crash course in how to write an emotively succinct tune ensued, creating an evening of opulence, charismatic musicianship and melodies that were oh so sweet.

The Magic Numbers, a band very few have heard of in North America although they are wildly popular everywhere else, opened the night with a short set of harmonious, psychedelic pop. Viscerally enthused by sharing their first North American tour with Conor and Leslie, the two-sibling quartet (two brother-and-sister combos) rallied off six choice cuts from their self-titled debut, including the LP's magnum-opus "Love Me Like You" and the broodingly haunting "Hymn For Her." Each song featured complicated three-part harmonies between lead guitarist and vocalist Romeo Stodart, his bass-playing sister Michelle and percussionist Michelle Gannon, creating gloriously euphonious melodies that reveled in elaborating on the loss that always accompanies love. This was an upbeat, melodically breezy affair, as Stodart and company transcended conviction in each song, nailing down a penultimate trait of brilliant songwriting that exhibited an extremely promising raconteur in Stodart. It was like Stodart just returned from having tea with Mama Cass and Graham Parsons and could not stop waxing poetic about the experience. Purely magical.

Toronto's Leslie Feist followed, primarily featuring material off her fantastic summer release Let it Die. Written and recorded in Paris, the record is heavily influenced by Parisian café culture and electro-pop, and subsequently, the live offerings offer much of the same aesthetic, rolling from bohemian-chic to Serge Gainsbourg-interpreted jazz, all brought together by one of the best set of pipes in the business. Boy, can Feist sing. Seriously - each vocal belt was absolutely bone chilling, like being surprised with a good soaking at the hands of an errant hose. Album cuts like Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart," as well as originals "Gatekeeper" and "Let It Die," highlighted not only the quality of each song, but also Feist's ability to sing it like no other. No matter how good each song was, I do not think anyone could have made each melody as sweet as Feist did. In addition, the Canadian songstress varied each tune's instrumentation, from singing alone to rocking out with her three-piece band. She even invited Oberst and other members of Bright Eyes to join in, culminating in the night's showstopper, a ferocious rendition of Feist's "Mushaboom."

Now who better to close off an already fantastic showcase of song than Conor Oberst and his Nebraskan septet? Oberst is one of 'indie' music's most prolific songwriters, and the man just turned twenty-four. He is truly independent, meaning I can use the word 'indie' and not be subject to a quarry of sarcastic sneers once this piece hits. In addition, the songwriter has released almost a dozen records, stemming from full-length LPs to shared EPs and even a Christmas album. 2005's combined release of the acoustic I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and the electronic Digital Ash in a Digital Urn further solidified his epochal musings, as both albums are fantastic experiments in song, most notably the painstakingly honest I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning that featured Emmylou Harris on vocals, among others.

Now onto the show... The two-hour headlining set was fantastic. Utilizing the versatility of his seven-piece band, Oberst correlated together folk, rock, blues and alternative country whilst showcasing a variance of emotional ballads from his entire catalog. From Digital Ash's "Gold Mind Gutted" to Fevers and Mirrors' "The Calendar Hung Itself" and Lifted's "Love I Don't Have to Love," Oberst's guttural, frail vocal lines washed over inventive arrangements, nuanced delicately with the soul of a simple harp melody or a texture-rich, synthesized keyboard part. Halfway through the set, Oberst delivered the set's acme with a brand new song, possibly titled "End of the World." It told the story of a couple brutally in love while the world around them crumbles at their feet. When the world's supply of oil runs out (according to Oberst - and I agree with him) everyone violently turns on one another, these two lovers relax and take comfort in each other, eminently happy by being together. Wrenched in symphonic indie, rhythmic pop and pedal-steel driven country, "End of the World" was Bright Eyes in their finest form: honest, inventive and contagiously emotional. In addition, this metaphor, emphasizing simplicity within complication, permeated Oberst's songwriting throughout the headlining set, as no matter how complicated and polyrhythmic each song became, it was the simple tinges, timbres and emotions that truly mattered. A testament not only to the authority of a good song, but also to Oberst's ability to command and disseminate that authority.

This was truly one of the best nights of music I have experienced in many months, and as my touring partner quoted on the way back to the car, "There is nothing sexier than the simplicity of a good song." A sublime comment for an even more sublime evening.