Aside from the release of Noise Floor B-Sides / rarities and a sprinkle of live shows, 2006 was an understandably quiet year for Bright Eyes. Dudes left their mark on the previous year with the simultaneous release of Digital Ash In A Digital Urn and I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. So it's no wonder a tuckered-out Conor and crew deserved some time out of the limelight. Lucky for us, those muted months did them good. Not only did it give Conor, and now full-time band members Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, the opportunity to create a slue of new tunery, it also allowed the trio to trawl across the country and collaborate with the likes of M. Ward, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch and Janet Weiss while recording their upcoming Four Winds EP and Cassadaga releases, whose contents were unleashed on two sold-out audiences at the Bowery this past weekend.
Surprisingly jubilant, Friday night's performance was a showcase for the mature and refined spirit of Four Winds and Cassadaga - a diary of the band's travels amidst the sprawling American landscape. It was from a dim-lit backstage that Conor and his rotating line-up of collaborators emerged and rolled into Four Winds - the crowd ambushed with incendiary strings and cinematic horns. And once the floodgates were open, there was no stopping the deluge. The ecstasy of "Reinvent the Wheel" and "Stray Dog Freedom" resonated and were complimented by classic Oberst opuses "First Day of My Life" and "Old Soul Song." While the tempo may have waned as the band knocked it down a few with "Smoke Without Fire" and "Tourist Trap," the attention of the audience (myself included) never wandered during the nearly 120 minute set thanks to the raspy goodness of M. Ward's guest vocals and Oberst's seductive story-telling.