It’s been a number of years since I’ve been to a Bright Eyes show—nine, to be exact. Back then, Conor Oberst breezed through the Commodore like a trendy tornado, leaving in his wake a number of screaming girls all aglow and altogether spent from shrieking at his every nuance. Would tonight’s show at the same venue promise a similar scourge?
The openers, New Jersey post-punk revivalists Titus Andronicus, were, for all intents and purposes, a well-suited warm up. Lead singer Patrick Stickles has a singing style eerily similar to Oberst’s, but he and his band are a much more aggressive lot, coming off more like Bright Eyes’ darker, drunker, cussing cousins. In an alternate dimension it’s conceivable that Stickles might have given Oberst swirlies, wedgies and swiped his lunch money semi-regularly if they went to the same high school. For those craving a longer set, they can rejoice the band’s return in June with Future Islands and Okkervil River.
As I moved closer to the stage, just like my previous brush with Bright Eyes, I suddenly found myself adrift in a sea of undulating co-eds waiting for Oberst to emerge. Cries of “Conor, I love you!” were ringing throughout the Ballroom long before he ambled onto the stage. Backed by a polished six-piece band, including Oberst’s collaborative, multi-instrumentalist power producer Mike Mogis (who had an enthusiastic cheering section of his own, by the way), Bright Eyes immediately mesmerized the crowd. The sold-out audience was rapt as Oberst, piloting a pageant-like production, quickly confirmed he was indeed a force of nature.
With its theatrical staging, strobing lights and screen projections, the exhilarating live performance held many a lively twinkle and exuberant flash. The lengthy set, which clocked in at well over two hours, had innumerable highlights and, to the pleasure of the mostly female throng, contained multiple climaxes.
With only a soft focus on material from their latest disc, The People’s Key, tracks like the synth-soaked “Shell Games” totted emotional depths that the LP only alluded to.
The rest of the set list contained songs from the rest of Bright Eyes’ vast catalogue, bouncing from folk-hue intimacy to pop-coloured poignancy as they ran through tracks like “Poison Oak,” “Bowl of Oranges” all the way through to the fragile acoustic kick of the Neutral Milk Hotel-influenced “Padraic My Prince.” Since Oberst is retiring the Bright Eyes moniker with this tour, it was a send-off, of sorts. And much to his credit, the singer kept the banter light and upbeat, expressing his excitement for the current tour and his gratitude for the screams his female fans were showering upon him.
When, during the stirring “Jejune Stars”, Oberst sang, “Every new day is a gift, it’s a song of redemption,” those in attendance received his parting gifts wholeheartedly. Bright Eyes graciously made majesty of us all.