I spent a little time yesterday afternoon going over setlists from Conor Oberst’s current tour with Dawes, and I can’t say I was too excited about the prospects for the show. A lot of my old favorites weren’t being played in favor of the new stuff, which I’m fine with, and I suppose for newer fans it’s good to play something like “Method Acting.” For my money I’d much rather hear “At The Bottom Of Everything,” but what do I know…All my worries were put to rest a couple songs in when I realized that Conor and Dawes make a pretty great team on stage. The split 7″ they put out for Record Store Day is fantastic, so I shouldn’t be too surprised.
Except I stood there through a full hour set by Dawes (they are acting as opener and backing band on this tour) and I never once felt a spark of excitement. Even on the song “When My Time Comes,” which everyone in the crowd knew and sang along with, it felt empty. They’re talented guys so I feel bad knocking their set, but it was like those early 90’s Springsteen albums where all the songs just kinda mesh together and you can’t really pick one out from the rest. But like I say, they’re great musicians-I really enjoyed watching the tall and lanky bassist Wylie Garber bang out some really tasty grooves. I was ready for it to end about halfway through the set, and every time Taylor Goldsmith said “We just have a couple more…” I could feel my ire rise tenfold.
It did end eventually, and after a longer-than-expected intermission Dawes returned to the stage with Conor in tow and they blazed through a couple tracks from Upside Down Mountain. Almost immediately I could tell that this matching was going to be good. For how much I did not enjoy their set, the job they did backing was astounding. They zigzagged in between solo Oberst songs and Bright Eyes tunes playing a pretty even mix of both. They hit a lot of the hits like “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)” and “If The Brakeman Turns My Way.” They didn’t shy away from the new record at all though, with 6 of the 21 songs played coming from that.
Goldsmith proved his worth in a few really bright guitar solos and added some flourishes to songs that could have come off very bland in a less-talented guitarists hands. In particular I liked what he did on “Artifact 1,” which Conor opened by saying “I’m gonna play a love song. Is that cool in Chicago?” It’s a really lovely song on the album, but I didn’t expect a live performance to be so exciting. During the breakdown Taylor and Conor played face to face about two inches apart and really got into it, building a tension I didn’t expect. The song features my favorite line from Upside Down Mountain, and it was delivered perfectly on the stage: “If I had tried, to make you mine/You would have walked away/I can’t compete, with memories/They never have to change.”
If you’ve been to a Conor Oberst or Bright Eyes show, you know that there isn’t a ton of banter. “Thanks so much” is usually about what you’re gonna get after every song. This night was no different, with only a few songs getting any kind of introduction-all of which started with “This songs about…” He could have not talked the whole time and I would have been completely entertained. There was an energy about him playing these new songs and working with a new band that was hinted at when I saw him last year with The Felice Brothers and First Aid Kit. I think he’s finally found a band that he can coalesce with perfectly, and he seems pretty happy about that. He was doing his little spin move all over the stage, with a big smile on his face for a lot of the show.
At 21 songs the show went a little over 2 hours, which was about 30 minutes more than I expected. Conor went all the way back to 2002 for a couple songs off of Lifted that I was happy to hear. I had 2 major issues that bugged me during the show, and they were both about the arrangements for songs, and “Bowl Of Oranges” was one of them. It felt a little flat and I’m not sure if I blame anyone, trying something different with a song is what makes concerts exciting, but that was a big miss. The other one came during the encore with “Cape Canaveral.” It was slow as molasses trying to ooze uphill. The original version isn’t fast-paced or anything, but this one just took the air out of the room.
Of course, the slow pace could have been a trick, lulling us into a false sense of boredom before the show closer “Roosevelt Room” blew the roof off of Metro. I’ve always loved that song, and the power it wields has not dwindled with time. After screaming “The working poor ya been pissing on are working double shifts toniiiiiiiight” Conor stood up on the drum set, then grabbed a full cup of something and threw it into the balcony. Then he continued by knocking over all the cups and bottles near the drums. It was a brilliant fit of rage during a song that begs for that kind of attitude.
This was my fifth or sixth time seeing some form of Conor Oberst perform-Bright Eyes, solo, Mystic Valley Band, with Felice Brothers-and it’s different enough every time that I have a hard time picking a favorite. Certainly this show ranks up near the top. He’s come into his own as a performer over the years, and it seems he’s found the right mix of songs and players to do what he really want to for the foreseeable future. Oberst and Dawes will be at Metro again tonight before heading out on the rest of their tour which goes through October (in North America and Europe).
Zigzagging Toward The Light
We Are Nowhere And It’s Now
Old Soul Song
- Hit The Switch
- Artifact #1
Bowl Of Oranges
- I Got The Reason #2
- Desert Island Questionnaire
Soul Singer In A Session Band
- Poison Oak
- If The Brakeman Turns My Way
- Another Travelin’ Song
- Cape Canaveral
- Hundreds Of Ways