Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band Live at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, August 12, 2008

Conor Oberst was once a bashful little boy, whispering and wailing his darkest secrets into the microphone while hiding behind an acoustic guitar. His recent tour to support the album Conor Oberst showed him with a new poise and vigor, stomping and strumming (occasionally stumbling over to pet keyboardist Nate Walcott’s hair) and more comfortable than ever before, singing his new country folk songs. It was his escapist attitude that led him to Topaztlan, Mexico to record a self titled traveling album. For an hour and a half on August 12 at the Bowery Ballroom in the Bright Eyes Mecca, New York City, the audience escaped with him too.

The set was split evenly between upbeat do-si-does, the audience actually dancing to “I Don’t Want to Die (In a Hospital)” and “Get-Well-Cards,” and intimate moments as during “Eagle on a Pole” and “Milk Thistle.” In between songs, sipping Miller Lite and a mysterious black liquid from a plastic cup on top of an old tube amp, Oberst would thank everyone profusely. He thanked the audience and The Evangelicals, the crashing noise opener with soaring solos and Jeff Buckley-esque vocals. Each of his mumbles of gratitude was met with even louder shouts of thanks from the audience.

Unfortunately for Bright Eyes fans, no ‘covers’ filled up the set. Instead, Conor took that chance to give the spotlight to his band mates. Taylor Hollingsworth played “Central City” off his record Bad Little Kitty. Guitarist Nik Freitas played “Sun Down” from his recent record with the same name. Even bassist Macey Taylor got to sing the first half of the droopy Harry Nilson cover “Everybody’s Talking.” All the while drummer Jason Boesel was keeping the rhythm and providing backup vocals.

After the critics had been giving him the Dylan nod for quite some time, Oberst finally addressed it in “Clairaudients,” the first track off the last Bright Eyes record, Cassadaga. It was a bit of well penned sarcarsm, “Would you agree times have changed?” This side project has Oberst inching closer to the legend and his band with not only the name of the project, the arrangement and the sound, but also for the fact that they covered a song Dylan played, “Corina, Corina.” The bluesy rock and roll bounce was fresh for Conor and, as he may be trying to do with the Dylan comparison, he made the song his own by adding lyrics like, “You’re way out there in Toluca and I’m trapped in Topaztlan.”

The Mystics played four songs that didn’t make the record. “Synasthete” had a riotous intro that was infused with noise and feedback for an eerie, psychedelic, dissonant jam. They also played the unfiltered rock of “Gentleman’s Pact” and the newer synth heavy plea, “I Got the Reason #2.”

Oberst took the keyboards to end the set with “Breezy” and the intensity felt after a lost loved one was still worn into Oberst’s voice. The song is about Sabrina Duim, a friend and harpist for Bright Eyes who died in January 2007. The set ended not so much with a jam, but an agonized and defeated randomization of notes. The band played whatever they could hit, Hollingsworth exploring the length of the fret board with a lighter as a slide piece and Oberst sweeping his hands across the keys.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band continue touring in the UK until late September. They’ll be back in New York at Terminal 5 in November.

Set list:
1. Sausalito
2. Get-Well-Cards
3. Eagle on a Pole
4. Central City
5. Cape Canaveral
6. Danny Callahan
7. Gentleman’s Pact
8. I Got the Reason #2
9. Corrina, Corrina
10. Lenders in the Temple
11. Synasthete
12. I Don’t Want to Die (in a Hospital)
14. Sun Down
15. Everybody's Talking
16. NYC – Gone, Gone
17. Souled Out!!!
18. Breezy


~Lee Stepien

Published at WERS.org on August 16, 2008
Photography by Erina Uemura

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