Bright Eyes at the Pabst, April 22 2007
**Update: Here is a link to another review of the show by Mirrworld with video of Oberst sinking into the audience!**
When Conor Oberst got on the Pabst Theater stage in an all-white suit, it seemed like the audience was in store for a quaint, old-school vaudeville show and not a John Travolta-ish extravaganza, even though he was wearing pointy white shoes and dancing around. (This photo is also old; he has darling long hair now.)
Joined by a string quartet and a few wind instruments, the whole Bright Eyes crew was dressed in all white. They glowed when lit up by the stage’s black light, and behind them, the works of projectionist Joey Lynch lit up the stage. It seemed like the band was supposed to be the canvas to whatever elementary doodles Lynch chose to come up with, starting with dessicated daisies on “Four Winds,” the first single off Oberst’s latest release, “Cassadega.”
The first few songs — “Clauradients,” “Hot Knives” — were fine. The only setbacks were songs begun on wrong frets or used with different guitars. As the show went on however, Oberst acted odder and odder.
He played a few oldies; “False Advertising” from “Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground” was one of them, as was “I Believe In Symmetry” and “Gold Mine Gutted” from “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” were some of them.
It’s definitely odd to watch a Bright Eyes show and see a ton of idiots yelling all kinds of cringeworthy things to Oberst. Mostly, it’s because I personally consider him one of the most brilliant songwriters of this generation, and I feel like it’s disrespectful not to listen to him properly. (At the similarly sold-out Iron and Wine show at the Pabst a few weeks ago, for example, everyone was so quiet between songs you could hear Sam Beam’s foot shuffles.)
But it was a younger audience, and Oberst, we would see much later on, didn’t seem to mind, indulging swooning teenage girls with talk about “wanting to spread his seed throughout the world” like Bob Marley. Also, the show rocked harder than you would expect from a singer-songwriter show.
According to Oberst, the band decided to started their tour at the Pabst because the people at the venue “were so nice.” He said Milwaukee was very nice. That openers Oakley Hall and McCarthy Trenching were very nice. That he wakes up in the morning after drinking alcohol thinking his life is so nice. It was cute, but after repeating himself about three times in between songs, it got kind of embarrassing.
At one point, he said that his tour manager was a good man for banning red wine (because of the white suits). My sister, who is a doctor, had a different interpretation of how Oberst’s manager was acting: “He looked like he was going to have a heart attack.”
Mostly because towards the end, Oberst kept stumbling across the stage, forgetting to switch cables on his guitars, knocking over guitar stands. Before he left for the encore, he gave his guitar to audience, prompting his manager to retrieve it. (My sister’s other big fear of the night was that Oberst would OD onstage and they would call for a doctor in the house. She explained, “I don’t know how to treat drug overdose.”)
For “Road to Joy,” his final song, Oberst was definitely off his mark, song wise. At that point, it didn’t matter; the song is structurally all about chaos anyway.
So Oberst crashed into his string section (possibly seriously hurting his violinist) and lay there for a while. Ater his manager pulled him up, he dove into the crowd twice (once with guitar, once without). Both times, of course, he got rescued too. His manager peeled him off the crowd and dragged him offstage, and then the lights went on.
By that time he had played about two hours, and it had been a great show, antics or no. (He played “Cleanse Song!” Yay!)
Oberst’s shenanigans made me wonder, though: when you’re a genius and the whole band is a bunch of people you hire to support your talent, are they allowed to get pissed at you for being wasted at a performance?