Reviews

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

Author: Anthony D'Amato
12/29/2005 | Upstagemagazine.com | www.upstagemagazine.com | Live Show Preview
Conor Oberst finally gets to take a break. After nearly a year of relentless touring in support of this year's two critically acclaimed releases, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, the Bright Eyes frontman has certainly earned it.

Oberst and his band ended 2005 in grand style with a pair of shows at the Loews Landmark Theater in Jersey City on November 25th and 26th. The Loews is a beautiful but well-worn theater constructed in the 1920's as a movie house and venue for vaudeville acts. After falling out of use and becoming somewhat dilapidated, the theater has been carefully restored in recent years by Friends of the Loews, a volunteer group seeking to preserve the theater as a community arts and entertainment venue. Today, the theater is almost exclusively used for screening old films, so, needless to say, back-to-back Bright Eyes concerts marked a departure from traditional programming at the Loews.

Openers the Magic Numbers and Feist both turned out to be pleasant surprises. This was the Magic Numbers' first trip to the United States from their home in the U.K., and their bright sound was received warmly by the rapidly filling up theater. "Don't Give Up the Fight" and "Love is Just a Game" found the four-piece retro-rock group at their best.

Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist was able to win the crowd over instantly with her gorgeous voice and sensual songs. Her set drew heavily from the originals on her latest album, Let It Die, but featured a few covers as well, most notably an oddly crowd-pleasing cover of the Bee Gees' "Inside and Out." Oberst, an unabashed fan, joined Feist for "Mushaboom," the standout track from Let It Die.

Bright Eyes' Saturday night set opened with an eerily pretty harp solo that, as Oberst and the rest of the band took the stage, led into the emotionally intense "Sunrise, Sunset" from 2000's Fevers and Mirrors. The show covered most of the young songwriter's career, jumping between albums fairly seamlessly with help from a very tight backing band. The second song of the night, the poetic "You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will.," was a cut from 2002's Lifted or The Story's in the Soil, Put Your Ear to the Ground, and the third, an uptempo version of "Hit the Switch," was from Bright Eyes' most recent album, 2005's Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Not a bad resume for a 25-year old kid from Nebraska.

While Oberst played a beat-up Martin acoustic guitar most of the night, he did switch over to the keyboards for "Gold Mine Gutted," a heavily percussive, dark track from Digital Ash which featured two full drumsets. Later, Oberst jumped on an electric guitar for a borderline-punk rendition of "Falling Out of Love at This Volume," a song from his 1998 release of home demo recordings.

"Mom, you might remember this one from way back," Oberst shouted to his mother who was seated in the balcony along with the rest of his family. After finishing the song, Oberst thanked his drummer for faithfully mimicking the "stupid" beat he had created with a cheap Casio keyboard for his original recordings.

In addition to the diverse mix of previously released tracks, Oberst and the band also broke out two new ones, the dark and brooding "No One Would Riot for Less" and "True Blue," a catchy folkish number with a fantastic Beale Street blues trumpet solo.

Oberst ended the main set by waving goodbye to the band (joking that they were finally leaving him for good), and playing the delicate, acoustic "Lua" on his own. There was complete silence in the theater as Oberst's trembling voice echoed throughout the cavernous hall before it was finally overcome with applause and a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd.

The band returned for a three song encore and said goodbye for the year with "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved)," a raucous, rambling, ten-minute rocker that found all the members of the opening bands and most of the tour's crew onstage playing or singing something. An impressively athletic fan even managed to take a flying leap onstage and, after security was waved off, sing a verse with Oberst before heading off to the side of the stage to play tambourine with security guards.

After the show, the dressing rooms were a swarm of smiles and hugs and kisses goodbye.

"It's kind of sad but joyous," explained Romeo Stodart, frontman of the Magic Numbers, of the tour's conclusion. He and the band would remain in the States for a handful of gigs, including an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, before returning to the U.K.

Oberst, too, found himself feeling pretty joyous. Taking a minute out from introducing his mom and dad to the myriad of celebrating friends and bandmates, Oberst, who looked more like an excited young kid than the indie-rock icon he has become, reflected on the tour's New Jersey finale.

"It was perfect," Oberst said with a big grin on his face. "This whole year has been amazing. It couldn't have been any better…and that's my quote!"


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