Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews



Author: Katrina Bouza
09/27/2007 | USC Daily Trojan | | Live Show Preview
The media tagged him the "boy genius" of indie rock. Rolling Stone infamously labeled him "the next Bob Dylan." Dedicated fans tout him as the greatest songwriter of the 21st century. But for all the attention and praise, the 27-year-old front man of Bright Eyes would prefer to be called Conor.

"It can make you feel strange, and some people don't understand," said Conor Oberst, lead singer and primary songwriter of the band, of the constant praise. "People can make you into some sort of object."

Relatively unknown in mainstream music until several years ago, one could hardly predict that the Omaha, Neb., natives (the other members are Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott) would be asked to perform with one of the world's most famous orchestras, the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

"We're very excited about it," Oberst said. "We have high hopes that it will come off [well]."

Despite the lack of traditional preparation for Saturday's show at the Hollywood Bowl - Bright Eyes and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will not get a chance to rehearse together before the concert - planning for the performance has been an ongoing effort. Building off the lush, intricate arrangements he composed for the band's latest album, "Cassadaga," Walcott wrote a new series of scores to accommodate the wide variety of instruments represented in the orchestra.

"That's one of the things [Nate] is really into - composing for strings and horns," Oberst said. "To have a chance to have his music played by one of the top orchestras in the world, it's exciting for all of us, but it's especially exciting for him."

All the added excitement, though, does not take away from the inescapable stresses of the project.

"It's been a super, time-consuming, crazy thing," Oberst said of Walcott's new arrangements. "He's been staying up all night working on it."

"Cassadaga" represents a notable departure from the early days of Bright Eyes, both musically and atmospherically. Gone are the songs dominated by Oberst's characteristically boyish wail, melodies driven by noisy guitars, lyrics tinged with self-pity and regret. In their place stands a curiously confident collection of insightful glimpses into the idea of redemption and fate painted in undeniably Midwestern hues.

Named for a Florida

spiritualist camp for psychics and mystical theology, "Cassadaga" adopts the magical qualities of its namesake, and the final product emerges as nothing short of mesmerizing. Capturing the elusive mystery of Cassadaga, Fla., became somewhat of a mission for Oberst as he began to work on songs for the album.

"My friend told me about it," he said of the camp. "And I was super intrigued I ended up thinking about it all the time for a year before I actually went there It totally lived up to all my expectations. I had this connection with the place. I had a real peaceful feeling there, and I took that away with me. The feeling that I had there seemed like a nice idea to connect all the songs."

On "Cassadaga," Walcott's sweeping, lush strings, paired with Mogis' elaborate production - featuring ethereal harmonies provided by an all-female choir - mesh perfectly with Oberst's rich, passionate lyrics. Yet to Oberst, these intensely developed tracks should not be considered more noteworthy than any of Bright Eyes' previous works.

"The songs kind of just come out, and I don't really premeditate them very much. It's however they end up existing inside of me," he admitted. "All my songs are really simple, and I guess at the core, they're pretty much folk songs in the sense that they're just real functional - just simple chords and simple melodies. So, within that, there's different ways you can decorate them."

Within the realm of simplicity, though, Oberst and his bandmates allow for intensified creativity: "With the band, we just try to always push ourselves and try new things and create new songs. The way it comes out is sort of a reflection of what we're into at the time, but it's certainly going to keep changing."

Given this attitude toward the songs he writes, it becomes increasingly clear that for Oberst, music is not a business, but rather, an amazingly significant way of life.

"I'm so lucky music has been this amazing force in my life that's allowed me to meet so many people. Pretty much most of the people I love, the people I care about, my true friendships, have come through music," he said. "It's really this great glue that keeps everything together for me."

In recent years, as the band's following expanded and exposure increased, they performed in increasingly larger venues. In Los Angeles, for example, one year of touring propelled Bright Eyes from performing at The El Rey Theatre in March to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in May. Now, the band awaits a sold-out performance at the 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl.

Longtime fans interested in retaining the secret of Bright Eyes' intensely evocative music for themselves lament the band's progression from small, intimate venues to impersonal amphitheater-like settings. When asked about this growth, Oberst admits to the drawbacks.

"We've played a lot of different-sized shows over the years. We've played to five people in houses, and we've played huge festivals to 100,000 people. It's totally weird," he said. "Every time it's a different thing, but you just try and take it for what it's worth."

Music fans attending Saturday's performance should expect amazing performances from both a collection of top-notch indie bands and a world-famous orchestra.

Above all, "I want them to have a good time," Oberst said. "I guess that's it."

- Bright Eyes will play with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood.

For more information, visit or call 323-850-2000.


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