The best Bright Eyes song I’ve ever heard came in at about fourth or fifth in the 24 year old wunderkind’s set at Town Hall last night, and it’s a tune that was described by vocalist Conor Oberst as “something they just wrote”. A jingle-jangle of a song with Dylan-esque (I know it’s been said) verbiage cataloging things that ought to stay in their rightful place, “Everything Must Belong Somewhere” is another example of songwriting that induces those feelings of nostalgia, regret, and wonder that seem to be exclusive property of Oberst’s these days.
If you would have told me a year ago that I would be queuing up on a frozen tundra style Gotham night to see Bright Eyes, I would have rolled my eyes and retreated to my collection of Ride rarities. Having long ago mentally dumped Mr. Oberst on the trash pile of heretics that were desecrating my beloved Punk Rock with cuddly spiked hair and whiny songs about ex-girlfriends, Conor was fighting a losing battle for a place in my life.
But that was then and this is now. What changed? I listened. When a kid can drop songs like "Bowl of Oranges", "Something Vague", and the entirety of I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (one of two new Bright Eyes Records hitting the shelves this week, but you already knew that) on you're lap, you just have to take notice. Am I the only one that’s noticed that Mr. Oberst is practically the lone writer of true, uncloaked in irony, “protest songs” in these absurd times of Bush and War? There is more humanity in this kid's songs than all that the Scots and Brooklynites can offer up combined.
There is a shambolic quality to the music of Bright Eyes, both in a live setting and on record, which can only come from a band of individuals that grew up listening to local punk rock bands and pasting together ‘Zines in bedrooms. One can imagine seeing this band at a VFW Hall playing to 30 kids instead of the Town Hall on 43rd Street and not really noticing the difference. Comprised of most of I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning amongst a smattering of catalog numbers, this was an often thrilling, drunken donnybrook of a gig that saw falling off of drum risers, slurred vocals, and many potshots hurled at Mr. Bush, including another new song “When the President Talks to God” which asks if “When the President talks to god/ does he fake that drawl or merely nod/agree which convicts should be killed/where prisons should be built and filled?” The most refreshing thing was the feeling that, with Oberst, what you hear is really how he feels. There is no tangible sense of “cool” (beyond the indie kid-by-numbers fringe of a haircut), no light show, no ironic lyrics that often hide apathy and anti-intellectualism in today’s “indie” heroes, just a drunk kid belting it out in a way that is so naked that it makes him the easiest of targets.
Friends from Omaha, Tilly and the Wall opened the evening with a fun set of whimsical folk and tap dancing that thawed out the absolutely freezing Town Hall. I have no idea of whether this translates well on record, but in person these peppy Nebraskans were a goofy pleasure.
Coco Rosie have been described as “champagne-guzzling costume-wearing Brooklyn bohemians in a bathtub in Montmartre” and that is pretty accurate. Their witchy brew of mouth-beats, cackling vocals, and fractured beats were intoxicating and warm.