Frontman and perpetual wunderkind Conor Oberst, 28, has always penned songs that lent themselves to the melodramatic. A Bob Dylan for the Y Generation, Oberst has an abundance of charisma, even when retreating inward to examine his own soul and yearnings.
Frankly, he didn't need the accompaniment of the orchestra to emote properly; his quirky vibrato and morose metaphors of Armageddon ("No One Would Riot For Less") and bisexuality ("Lover I Don't Have To Love") were more than sufficient.
Even Oberst joked about the Phil's stoic presence behind him and his band mates, including former Sleater Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. "You still awake up there?" he asked with a smirk, as Bright Eyes prepared to perform a stripped-down encore with openers M. Ward.
The naked honesty of Oberst's poetry is what makes Bright Eyes soar. On their vast array of albums, immense orchestration serves as a viable ingredient. But live, the Phil's by-the-book arrangements seemed like too much of a good thing, perhaps even detracting from the folksy feast.
As second opening act Yo La Tengo proved, less can be more. With only three musicians in their artillery, the members rotated between drums, keyboards, vocals, and walls of feedback. The husband/wife team of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley exuded a timeless synergy (the band formed in 1984) as hulking bassist James McNew kept a hypnotic pace. They were definitely small fish in a big Bowl, but their subtlety was a welcome shift from the overblown theatrics of the headliners.
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