February 17, 2005 – Paramount Theatre – Seattle, WA
by Ashley Graham
An evening spent with Bright Eyes phenom Conor Oberst guarantees quality songwriting from headliners and openers alike. Sometimes you luck out and are introduced to forces like Pedro the Lion or M. Ward, and sometimes you wind up less impressed. Though the quality was there, the stage presence wasn’t for tonight’s openers Neva Dinova and Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter. Neva Dinova’s set ended with a duet with Oberst which was fun, but not for its choice of lyrics, “The world’s a shitty place, and I can’t wait to die.” Sykes and her band were good but their set went on far too long.
Lucky for both bands, the headliner could compensate for their less than stellar performances. Just when you think you’ve lost interest, there is Oberst. Unmatched in his age group for songwriting skills, Oberst is also turning into quite the live entertainer. He loosens up as the night goes on, and the alcoholic beverages continue to flow, and his stage presence is sharp and commanding. There is so much power in his voice that you not only forget he’s just some geeky looking skinny kid from Omaha, you also forget that there is a band of five backing him. He cries out the lyrics “If you're still free start runnin' away, 'cause we're comin' for ya,“ from his song “One Foot in Front of the Other” turned Emmylou Harris recorded duet “Landlocked Blues,” with a passion that demands attention.
And he gets that attention, if not always in the most dignified way. Whether it is exclusive to the Seattle crowds or not, I can’t be certain, but the last two times I have seen Bright Eyes here the audience has felt the need to shout their expressions of adoration out to Oberst during the set. Yips, yells, whistles and the occasional “I love you Conor” are in far too great an abundance at these shows. If they must be endured, hopefully the kids who haven’t yet learned to dress themselves are at least listening to what Oberst is saying because he’s saying a lot.
Mid-set, after troubles with his acoustic guitar, Oberst straps on the electric one and does a great rendition of his unrecorded song “When the President Talks to God.” As the song concludes with the lyrics “Does he ever smell his own bullshit? When the President talks to God? I doubt it” the crowd absolutely erupts into screams, cheers and applause. Also admirable is the encore song “Lua,” which Oberst performs with his newly-acquired acoustic guitar from Sykes’ band. You can lose yourself in the lyrics of this song, and hearing them live brings them a whole new sense of power.
As it was the final night of the tour, and in lieu of Oberst’s next-day overseas flight, the entire line-up of bands took to the stage for the concluding song, an unrehearsed but fun rendition of John Denver’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.” A couple notes are missed and Sykes loses track of the last lines and improvises them instead, but it is entertaining and the cast of characters on the stage seems to be enjoying it even more than the audience. A lovely ending to another great night with Oberst and company, and hopefully a good send-off for the plane-weary songwriter.