Saddle Creek | Bright Eyes | Reviews


Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: John Everhart
05/01/2003 | Nude As the News | | Live Show Preview
A dream bill for some (myself included), a nightmare for others (the legions of young girls eagerly awaiting a glimpse of Conor Oberst, the guy who screamed "it's still sounds better than Bright Eyes" when Arab Strap's drum machine malfunctioned), the Bright Eyes/Arab Strap tour has certainly been one of the most interesting of the spring. Arab Strap has had the unenviable task of opening to the impatient legions of Conor devotees, and the aforementioned equipment troubles complicated things further for them (at one point, singer Aidan Moffat disgustedly spat on his drum machine). Yet they managed to pull off a terrific performance with a set culled mainly from their excellent new record, Monday At The Hug And Pint.
Moffat's sordid tales of one-night stands, infidelities and betrayal were backed by simple drum-machine beats, a small string section and acoustic guitar leads courtesy of the other permanent half of the band, Malcolm Middleton. When Moffat was in peak form, as he was during a stunning, stripped-down version of "Packs Of Three," the band were nothing short of mesmerizing. He also managed to lighten the mood somewhat with his deadpan sense of humor, once requesting that his tour manager bring him another beer, referring to it as his "performance fuel."
While Arab Strap's performance was firmly rooted in the vernacular of a late-night binge in a dank Scottish pub, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes seemed more concerned with broader themes: dislocation, wandering as a form of escape and healing. Kicking off with "One Foot In Front Of The Other" from the Saddle Creek 50 compilation, Oberst intoned the double entendre "If you walk away / I'll walk away," seemingly alluding to both the current military conflicts throughout the world and a failing interpersonal relationship.
It was odd hearing a man so synonymous with his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, singing songs about such a disparate set of locations. Athens, Ga. ("Southern State"), New York City ("Train Underwater") and Chicago ("The Calendar Hung Itself") were all recalled with a resigned sense of ambivalence; tenderly remembered without cheap sentimentality.
Older songs were recast with vigor and bile. "A Perfect Sonnet" was embellished with vibraphone courtesy of Mike Mogis, as Oberst furiously strummed the fractured melody, spitting out the forlorn lyrics in a rapid-fire vomit spurt, eventually breaking a string (looking a bit dazed when he did so, no doubt due to his copious intake of red wine throughout the night). "A New Arrangement" was revitalized with a heavier drum sound, lending the original, anemic version a much needed rhythmic anchor as Oberst plaintively urged, "baby when you call, don't feel awkward."
The show ended on an optimistic note, just Oberst and his guitar on a gentle, beautiful new song titled "First Day Of My Life." Deceptively simple, the song recalled the Maureen Tucker-sung numbers from the Velvet Underground's catalog. As Oberst sang, "This is the first day of my life / glad I didn't die before I met you" over nothing but skeletal acoustic guitar, you could've heard a pin drop in the venue of 1500, which only magnified the naked vulnerability of the singer.

Setlist: One Foot in Front of the Other / Train Underwater / A New Arrangement / You / Will? / The Calendar Hung Itself / Trees Get Wheeled Away / Poison Oak / / Perfect Sonnet / Southern State / Bowl Of Oranges / Road To Joy /
Encore: A Song To Pass The Time / Listen To Her Heart (Tom Petty Cover)First Day Of My Life