Thursday’s extra-special, really sold out Conor Oberst show did a lot more than attract a throng of Bright Eyes lovers to SOhO; it worked to re-seal the deal for many casual Oberst appreciators (this reviewer included). Don’t get me wrong, back in 2002 I definitely had my Bright Eyes phase. Denying the beauty of a record like Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground is just foolish, really. But since then my love affair with Oberst’s songbook has waxed and waned. Monsters of Folk got a thumbs up, Mystic Valley Band was hit or miss, and that Digital Ash in a Digital Urn stuff, no thanks.
But, like that other half-indie, half-mainstream workaholic, Ryan Adams, Oberst does not disappoint in the live arena, and his lengthy Thursday night setlist exemplified just that. First up, though, were New York twang lovers The Felice Brothers, who delivered a set so rollicking it could have easily closed out the night. Highlights included the huge sounding “White Limo” and the foot stomping “Run Chicken Run,” both of which benefitted from a furious mix of accordion, violin, fiddle, and guitars, and made me wonder why those Mumford & Sons are getting so much credit for doing a lesser job of what these Brothers have perfected.
Later though, with the Felice Brothers at his side, it was Oberst who took the stage and stole the show. It kicked off with the fiddle-filled Bright Eyes anthem “Four Winds,” then spiraled through a series of solo cuts (“Moab,” “Lenders in the Temple,” “Cape Canaveral”) and BE classics (“Spring Cleaning,” “Well Whiskey”). And, like my own record collection had already told me, the highlights came the further back Oberst went. The aching lyrics and country waltz of “Laura Laurent” proved to be one of the set’s earliest high points, followed later by “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now” and the quintessentially lyric-driven “Easy/Lucky/Free.” Elsewhere, the Felice Brothers tied things together with just enough boyish enthusiasm to offset Oberst’s darkest moments (“Train Under Water”) and accentuate his more buoyant tracks (“10 Women”).
All in all, it made for a match in folkie heaven, and a set that sounded so good it forced you to forget all those little Oberst disappointments that happened along the way.