Sunday, August 3, 2008

Live: Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band @ Amoeba Records

Bright Eyes is one of those bands that I feel most of its fans don't understand. If you looked at the fanbase for the Conor Oberst moniker, it's mostly teen girls, but if was to describe Oberst's song writing, the one phrase that always comes to mind is "beyond his years." The music never really fit the age that followed it; I always figured that the girls were locked onto his appearance and hadn't really understood his music. Critics maligned Oberst for his youth following, and for never following through on his "next Bob Dylan" tag they stuck on him when he emerged from Saddle Creek at 13.

In 2005 Obherst released two albums of material on the same day, offering two directions his career could go. Down one road was Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, featuring collaborations with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, electronic meddling, and a more youthful record. Essentially it was the album-length equivalent of the experimenting Oberst did on "Lover I Don't Have to Love" from his previous record, which had earned him legions of young, lovelorn fans just beginning to grip the "emo" label. Down the other road was the Emmylou Harris backed I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, a folksy, mature record that just felt right for Oberst. Not to say Digital Ash didn't have it moments, but it was clear that Oberst had finally found the clear direction he needed on IWAIM. Tracks like "Train Under Water," "We Are Nowhere and It's Now," and my personal favorite "Road To Joy" sounded like a contemporary of Harris, not a twenty-something.

On his follow-up Cassadaga Oberst attempted the growing up he needed, and fell just a bit short. He had shifted to more folk-rock, but the youth-courting hit "Four Winds" hung on the album like "First Day of My Life" did on Wide Awake, both good songs, but both carrying the lingering tag of young singer/songwriter.

Now Oberst is on the verge of the release of his first "solo" album in years (technically Bright Eyes is a solo band, but the shift from moniker to his actual name carries some weight). He's gone soft, gone quiet, retained the midwestern sensibilities, and hopefully has completed the shift to being seen as an adult songwriter. He may be embracing the Dylan comparisons a little bit, but it was an unfair connection to draw from the start - Oberst does the electric rock and acoustic folk in about equal numbers, but he has a more personal and less universal aura about him. That's just my opinion though.

For the album Oberst went down to Mexico, recording with the Mystic Valley Band, and that's exactly who showed up with him when he played an in-store gig at Ameoba Records in downtown San Francisco this past weekend. They tore through an 8-song set of exclusively solo material (with one Dylan cover, but come on, its Conor Oberst), and it was satisfying to see so many multi-ear-piercing-and-dye-job kids looking disappointed with the adult direction he's taken as a musician and a songwriter. I really hope this is the record to give him recognition as the almost 30-year-old man he is, and not stuck permanently stick him as a teenager who refused to grow up in his songs.

Take a look at the last song of his set, and check out the setlist below.

Cape Canaveral
NYC - Gone, Gone
Souled Out!!!
Smoke Signals (Non-album track)
Corrina, Corrina (Bob Dylan cover)
Lenders in the Temple


Michael said...

So...did you get to see this set? That's awesome. I've only heard Souled Out!! thus far (on woxy) but I'm really looking forward to the album. I give Digital Ash in a Digital Urn more credit than it seems you are, but I definitely acknowledge that IAIM is a superior album. His music always gets me super stoked.

mindy said...

Hi, I actually took the video you've posted, which is how I found your post. I have to say I didn't see disappointed looks on the folks around me. It's funny because I'm not one of the pierced/dye jobs by any means, but I've had friends that are and they would say the same thing as you, but in regards to the clean-cut "preps" who follow him "just because he's popular." It's all a matter of perspective. I think it's just good to appreciate that so many people recognize him as a powerful artist and that mass support should help let him to do what he does best for many years to come. I'm definitely enjoying his solo work...nice evolution.

ithinkyoureswell said...

milk thistle is an awesome track.

i reviewed the cd on my blog, if you'd like to check it out.

C said...

'lenders in the temple' and 'cape caranvral' are up there with his best, new album is a bit patchy though. But patchy Conor Oberst is still better than most. I'm going to see him in Manchester Thursday, should be ace!