So here I am, walking past a queue of people seemingly no taller than five foot (and I aint MUCH taller), to see screamy-turned-country-cokehead-genius-and-isn’t-he-cute!- Conor Oberst. The crowd does not match the music on offer tonight. But these are eyelinered teenagers who fell in love with The Calendar Hung Itself (that was the first Bright Eyes song I ever heard) and Lover I Don’t have to Love (if you’re younger).
Why do we stick by Conor as he goes from brain-bleedingly vital (Desaparecidos) and downright genius (Letting Off The Happiness/ Fevers & Mirrors/ Lifted/ Digital Ash) to generic country bumpkin? Because look how many albums WERE downright genius. How can you fall out of love with someone who gave you so much? I am a loyal little fucker and he has done more for me than 99.9% of people on this planet just by existing.
And so I took my place at the front of the barrier amongst the crowd who were 80% female and 80% under 20. I might be older, but I’m the same age as Conor. He speaks for me as well.
The support band were a bit peculiar, a Welsh David Icke lookalike and a guitar player who would have made a rabbit in the headlights look like it was sitting on a sun-lounger sipping a cocktail. But my general feeling was, it could have been a lot worse.
I had reasonably low expectations for the gig; I was fully expecting it to be a full on country-fest, which it was to an extent, but it seemed to work well in it’s own bubble. You just have to push the back catalogue out of your head and appreciate this for what it is. I saw quite a chunk of Conor at Reading on BBC3 and I thought it was OK, but it was much better when you were there (plus he didn’t look quite so much like he was in fancy dress).
Conor and The Mystic Valley Band came on in a collection of puke-coloured shirts. Conor later said they were ‘ill’; I think ‘drunk’ was more the word he was after. The guitar player looked like he was struggling to stand and Conor later said it was because he’d dropped acid right before the show; if that was the case, he did a sterling job.
I’m quite fond of the Conor Solo album anyway, but it seemed more alive on a stage, less mellow and like it was meant to be heard this way. The stripped down numbers like Lenders in the Temple and Milk Thistle were lush and I thought Conor’s voice sounded really good, especially as he seemed to have a sore throat. The lighting was really cool at times I thought and they did one song that I have an acoustic version of that they really rocked up and it sounded brilliant (I don’t know the name of it- they did it at the BBC session and it says untitled!)
Minor gripes; I don’t think there was one member of the band that didn’t sing a song (even the bloody drummer sang one!) which seems a bit of a waste; like getting some gormless ballboy to play a set at Wimbledon whilst Nadal sits drinking some barley water and staring into space. Actually those songs were OK, and the covers, and I thought the whole set was pretty good (oh OK they pushed it a bit at the encore, but the very last song made up for it.)
I do just enjoy watching Conor, I like watching him fall apart a bit, and stumble round, and I especially like it when he SCREAMS. The final song (which I have discovered is called Breezy) saw Conor take to the keyboards, for this ballady number, then halfway through the song kicked in (I Believe in Symmetry style!) and there was a fair amount of shouting. It felt like a moment. It was an absolutely brilliant song and I want it now!
I actually thought him playing no Bright Eyes tonight was just right. I’m sure some eyelinered teens will have been disappointed. But I’m older. I’ve seen him on five or six tours now. They just should have been born earlier!
PS. I think Conor will be our Madonna and go a bit pop/ dancey next. I’m hoping anyway.