Make no mistake, Bright Eyes has always been self-indulgent. But so has Radiohead and I don't hear too many people complaining. This isn't a question of right or wrong, but whether or not a band has the musical chops and that sense of proportion which sets the grandeur of orchestration in the context of this band, this song. Well, you did it, guys, and I for one would like to thank you for it.
Look, we're talking about a band in which one member (Nate Wolcott, the keys-trumpet-accordion guy) arranges the music so that an orchestra can be called in not merely to fill out the sound, but to actually handle a fair number of the instrumental melodies (this was especially clear on the Cassadaga material like "Hot Knives" and "No One Would Riot for Less").
Oberst glided on stage looking like Severus Snape channeling Trent Reznor, replete with a sleek, knee-length black coat. Suzie Katayama, the philharmonic's conductor was snappily dressed (as were Oberst's backup singers), but there could be no question whose night this was. And when he began "Don't Know When but a Day is Gonna' Come" by himself, he earned his iconic status as the ultimate brooding artsy-type.
The highlight of the set was "Another Travelin' Song." Already a jouncy country number, the orchestral blasts were explosive AND tasteful (Did you get that, Lars?). Nearly every song featured dramatic dynamic shifts ranging from the near whispers at the beginning of "Poison Oak" to the Busby Berkeley-esque swells of "Make a Plan to Love Me." I was pleasantly surprised to hear "I Believe in Symmetry" from Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Adding the LA Phil managed to bring out that song's strengths—all of which were buried on the album as Oberst strained to make his songwriting serve electronic-sounding beats.
Unfortunately, only half the band came out for the encore. See, the LA Phil left early, taking most of the atmosphere with them. That's okay. During "Hot Knives," while singing "Her bed beneath a crucifix/ On guests performing miracles/ With the Son of God just hanging like a/ Common criminal," Oberst had his guitar raised like he was dispensing the sacrament. Seriously, after moments like that you've got to do something to help even me out.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / Deluxe CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3