Bright Eyes’s Conor Oberst has been called many things, from a has-been indie star to the next Bob Dylan. One thing he hasn’t been called-thanks to his loyalty to Nebraska-based Saddle Creek Records, the indie label he has remained with despite numerous big-label offers-is an egomaniac. But as Oberst’s career approaches the 10-year mark, the image of the small-town musical savant who stumbled on a fame he never wanted has now officially worn itself out.
This became clear almost immediately into Oberst’s two-hour set. After a stellar opening act by the dazzling Gillian Welch-a band misnomer, considering Welch’s mind-blowing guitar player, simply introduced as Dave-Oberst took the stage, which was decorated with white planters containing live flowers. Dressed in a white tuxedo with his long, black hair resting on his shoulders, Oberst looked like a John Lennon knock-off 40 years in the making. His appearance begged the question: Was this some strange homage to Lennon, or was he emulating one of the most famous pop icons of all time?
Without providing any answers, Oberst treated his audience to a psychedelic trip through his body of work, including “Classic Cars” and the always affecting “The Calendar Hung Itself.” Unfortunately, with every new song came a distracting visual effect. Throughout the entire show, transparent images were projected floor to ceiling over the entire stage, ranging from red ink blots floating mindlessly in water to an etch-a-sketch etching along. Even weirder was Oberst’s reluctance to play the standout tracks off his new album, Casadaga. Instead of “Four Winds,” he opted for more abstract tunes, including “Lime Tree” and “No One Would Riot for Less.”
Perhaps the oddest part of the concert was the finale, when Oberst pulled up all the flowers from their beds, chucking them into the audience before leaning into his mob of fans, who bore his weight for a moment before he stumbled off stage. It was a move we’d maybe expect from Creed’s Scott Stapp, but not from our Conor Oberst, who once sang: “So I’m making a deal with the devils of fame/Saying ‘let me walk away, please?'” Apparently on this night, the devil was off duty.