Omaha, Nebraska is a city one would not expect an artist to call his hometown, but indie-wunderkind Conor Oberst, and his band, Bright Eyes, do so proudly. The quavering, unsure voice with the soulful lyrics of a modern day Bob Dylan entertained hipsters and sensitive folk alike at New York's Bowery Ballroom for two nights as part of a small U.S. tour to promote a new EP, Four Winds, and an upcoming full-length, Cassadega.
The shows were sold out within a minute of being on sale, which was through Ticketmaster-subsidiary Ticketweb. Oberst has actively and vocally protested against Clear Channel, the media conglomerate that is closely allied with Ticketmaster, saying that its structure and status as the largest the world's largest promoter and marketer of live entertainment makes it impossible for independent bands and artists to tour.
Anticipation for the set was as widespread as it is for the release of the record, which will see an early April release. The indie rock community may have to hand Oberst over to the masses, though, because the voice quavers no more.
The 100-minute, 16-song set comprised mostly of newer songs pulled from the Four Winds EP, of which he played all six tracks. The folky, roots-rock and countrified sound for which Bright Eyes is known is beginning to mature. Oberst now sings on-key, his music is uniformly relevant and his lyrical content continues to metaphorically be political, personal and emotional all at once.
Two openers preceded Bright Eyes: A. Bondy, a solo artist with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica that made him sound like he was Oberst's protégé. His introduction was unique: "I'm six pellets into a mescaline trip," he said. "Let's see how this goes." He instantly had the small crowd's applause.
The second opener, Craig Wedren, is another singer/songwriter, but he had a band around him, though no one in attendance seemed to like him. He kept promoting himself as a "film" musician -- he writes scores for movies, such as "Reno 911: Miami." However, the crowd seemed not to care, his band's sound seemed both generic and unoriginal and his presence was unwelcome on the stage, as everyone was anticipating Bright Eyes.
Oberst has hired, for the first time, permanent members to join the band. Bright Eyes used to be a project that featured Oberst and included his friends from Omaha. The band now features: Daniel J. McCarthy on bass; Mike Mogis on banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar and electric guitar; Anton Patzner on violin; and Maria Taylor on drums.
Bright Eyes' songs were all well-received by the capacity crowd. He played one track, "Make War," from his sprawling release Lifted.... Introduced as a "country song, though I'm not from the 'country,'" the song features a twang that far surpasses the level of his traditionally folk sound. In addition, he played some rarities, including a song from a split CD he did with Britt Daniel of Spoon called "Spent on Rainy Days," which was the heaviest song in the set.
Some of the quieter moments were aided by guest-musician M. Ward, who played a huge part in the EP, including singing credit on "Smoke Without Fire," with some speculating that he had a role in the songwriting on Four Winds. He came out and played on two tracks of the main set, and the entire three-song encore.