Reviews

Four Winds

Author: Jenny Eliscu
03/05/2007 | Rollingstone.com | www.rollingstone.com | Live Show Preview
Maturity can be a mixed blessing, and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst demonstrated its blessings and curses during the second of two sold-out shows at New York's Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night. His shoulder-length hair matted with grease, Oberst took the stage for a set that varied between roughhewn interpretations of older songs such as "Make War" and distressingly dullsville material from his upcoming Cassadaga album.

Oberst assembled a crack team of musicians for his touring band, including Neva Dinova bassist Jake Bellows, drummer Rachel Blumberg and violinist Anton Patzner. In spite of an occasional lull between songs to deal with technical difficulties, the band's combustible energy never flagged, and they achieved a feeling of intimacy by sounding immaculate and sloppy at the same time. Gone were the self-conscious mannerisms Oberst brought to the stage during his earlier tours, back when he was a fresh-faced indie-folk prodigy. In this regard, he wears his adulthood well.

But maybe he's getting too old too fast. There are several spots on Cassadaga where Oberst lavishes his songs with production so schmaltzy, they could have been recorded by Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles back when those bands were spending as much money on studio excess as they were on blow. Oberst's narrative and interpretive skills as a folk singer are still in top form, but his arrangements and the strangely cheesy tones coming from both trumpet and plugged-in violin make for rambling, predictable country-rock songs woefully short on the twitchiness and misery that characterized Oberst's best material. During their cover of John Prine's "Crazy As a Loon," a friend who usually has a total hard-on for Bright Eyes looked at me dejectedly and said, "Wow, we're really in peaceful-easy-feeling territory, aren't we?"

High points included the band's rendition of Neva Dinova's happy-sad kiss-off song "I'll Be Your Friend," Cassadaga's "Four Winds" and a duet with M. Ward on Ward's own "Lullaby + Exile," where the creaky timbre of his voice paired beautifully with Oberst's plaintive warble. The band achieved a crowd sing-along during "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" from I'm Wide Awake It's Morning, but afterward one girl in the audience yelled, "Play something you didn't play last night." A more apt request would have been, "Play something that doesn't sound like the Charlie Daniels Band." One can only hope that on his next pass through town, Oberst rolls out material he wrote before adulthood turned him soft.
Four Winds

Four Winds

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