Bright Eyes at Sound Academy
The eternal genius of Conor Oberst graced the Sound Academy with his presence on Sunday evening for the first time in “a good long time,” in Conor’s own words. The last time Bright Eyes played Sound Academy it was still called The Docks, and the tour was backing the release of Digital Ash in the Digital Urn - from what I remember, at the very least. The last time I saw Bright Eyes live was when I was a startled highschooler commuting to The Docks from the suburbs. The last time I saw Bright Eyes I was a die-hard, heart-on my sleeve bedroom kid who quoted Oberst in my English essays. These days I just quote Oberst on my blog.
But I digress. Sunday’s show left me every bit as impressed, awed, and, who are we kidding, obsessed with Bright Eyes as I was when I was 15. Which was only appropriate, as it seems that the fifteen year-olds came out in throngs.
"Wow, guys, you’re drinking beer, not coolers, I’m impressed," attempted a brazen teenage boy just as M and I got to the Sound Academy and snapped open our mandatory Amsterdam Blondes. Remember when coolers was a thing in high school? Well coolers was also a thing at the Bright Eyes show. The Sunday all-ages show drew mostly an all-ages crowd, with emphasis being on the lower echelon.
The age divide was especially apparent once Conor and the band finally got out on stage. “Shell Games,” the lead single of People’s Key drew a very enthused sing-along from the yonguns, who nevertheless remained mildly confused during older B-sides like “From A Balance Beam,” “An Attempt to Tip the Scales” and even “Old Soul Song.” But the veteran Bright Eyes seem to have foreseen the unavoidable demographic divide, as their set, which clocked at way over 2 hours, contained roughly equal amounts of old and new goodies. Kids got pumped for “Haile Selassie” and “Jejune Stars”; us pensioners got very excited for “The Calendar Hung Itself,” “False Advertising” and “Take it Easy (Love Nothing)”. But then, everyone came together for the classic Bright Eyes crowd pleasers. “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” was an early favourite, and the acoustic rendition of “Lua” (see video, courtesy of yours truly) was quite literally one of the more beautiful and meaningful musical experiences that I have ever…experienced.
The overall production value of the set, like the lights, sail-like props, and LCD screens was also very impressive. On top of that, almost all of the songs have been aggressively re-arranged to accommodate a fuller than full band. This was not your bare bones Bright Eyes set. Along with Conor on lead guitar (and from what I can remember), the band consisted of a bassist, a second guitarist, two drummers, two (or three?) keyboards, and a brass section. The result was a kind of richness that is not audible on most of the records, especially the earlier stuff. While the new, admittedly louder and fuller Bright Eyes record sounded appropriately impressive, the real beneficiary of these newfound instruments were the old songs. Songs like “Bowl of Oranges” and “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)” sounded, while still signaturely raw, at the same time absolutely massive.
Once upon a time, Bright Eyes was just Conor Oberst - his heart, his voice, and his guitar. The things that made Bright Eyes songs iconic - the truth at their core, the ugly emotions, the pain, the feeling - those things are still there, in the form of the slightly (read: decidedly) drunk Oberst who still likes to wail, not sing, into his mic. But the whole act has become polished and grand, a perfect storm of features that made up one epic live show.