I got down to The Holland Center last night just as Bright Eyes went on stage at around 10. The house didn’t look sold out, but it looked pretty close, at least from my perspective in the front of the first balcony. Standing center stage was Conor Oberst, dressed in a white suit with white shoes, his long black hair draped over his shoulders, parted in the middle Michael Jackson style (the long-haired Michael from the past few years of utter craziness). The rest of the band also wore white, except for Andy Lemaster, who wore a Dalmatian-spotted white hoodie.
It sounded as good as you’d expect in the Holland, with the band backed by a 6-piece woodwinds/strings ensemble and two drummers – Janet Weiss and Rachel Blumberg. Off to stage left, behind a couple keyboards wearing a white suit, was Bright Eyes full-timer Nate Walcott. I spent the first 20 minutes trying to find the third full-timer, Mike Mogis. That guy with the beard, that couldn’t be him, could it? Of course not, he has too much hair. Oberst announced from the stage that Mogis couldn’t make the show last night because he was at a prenuptial dinner for his brother AJ, who’s getting married today. Filling in were two guys from Oakley Hall.
So those were the players. The only other notable stage presence was the projected visual effects, which consisted of Lincoln artist Joey Lynch (according to The OWH) using an overhead projector to cast images – dots, flowers, Cassadaga artwork, toy wooden blocks, Etch-a-sketch scratchings, marker scribblings – but mostly drops of watercolor paint, which spilled and flowed in psychedelic color collages. The images were projected across the entire back of the stage wall and onto the band, substituting for typical stage lighting. Was it effective? Well, sometimes.
They played most of the songs off Cassadaga, but also worked in a few numbers from Wide Awake. I don’t have a playlist and wasn’t keeping track, but I know that it differed from what he played in Minneapolis the night before.
A few observations:
— Oberst said he liked the Holland, but that it looked too damn new. It lacked that lived-in feel. He then invited the crowd to get rowdy. “This is a rock and roll concert after all” he said, and then suggested they go write some graffiti on the walls. Knowing better, he quickly added, “No, no. Don’t do that, I’m only joking.”
— It took about 40 minutes before people got out of their seats and made their way to the front of the stage, which quickly became packed with people standing and waving the arms. Most of the front section was on their feet for the last third of the show.
— The woodwinds/strings section was an inspired idea, but sounded like an afterthought on most of the songs, adding only subtle accouterment to the overall arrangements. It would have been interesting to hear the set backed by the entire Omaha Symphony.
— They didn’t play my favorite song from the new album, “I Must Belong Somewhere.” Other Cassadaga songs left out of last night’s set: “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” and “Coat Check Dream Song.”
— The highlight was a rendition of “Cleanse Song” (which, btw, he didn’t play the night before in Minneapolis). He dedicated it to “Nancy” – his mother.
— He finished the set with a moody version of “Lime Tree,” then dropped his guitar and quickly said, “thanks” and shuffled off the stage. It was abrupt and kind of strange. They came back a few minutes later in classic encore style and played three songs, including an especially noisy version of “Road to Joy,” which I guess is going to become his signature encore number, probably because he and the band have fun playing it — kind of like hearing a Junior High concert band goofing off playing their instruments as loud as they can while the band director is out of the room.
All-in-all, it was a straight-forward 90-minute concert, well-played and well-sung. Oberst was in fine voice, sober (he drank a beer between songs) and not a bit nervous. Like he said in his interview, if you go to his concerts in hopes of seeing a train wreck, you’re going to be disappointed. For better or worse, those days are behind him.
Let’s get to the weekend…
Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s Cap Gun Coup, Bear Country, Eustace and The Answer Team. Here’s an interesting tid-bit about Cap Gun Coup: When I interviewed Oberst in February, we talked about up-and-coming bands. The only local act that he mentioned that he liked (that wasn’t already on Saddle Creek or Team Love) was Cap Gun Coup. The show, which is sponsored by the Douglas County Democratic Party, starts at 8 p.m. and is free.
Meanwhile, down at O’Leaver’s, it’s Brimstone Howl with Box Elders (featuring local legend Dave Goldberg on drums and keyboards), Buffalo Killers and Blind Shake. 9:30, $5.
Saturday night at The Waiting Room it’s punk trio The Dollyrots with The Coffin Killers (their second and final performance before drummer Jeff Heater heads to San D.), Roman Numerals and Flurry. 7, 9 p.m.
Meanwhile, over at O’Leaver’s it’s Thunder Power!!! with Casados, Tea Ceremony and Train Dodge, $5, 9:30 p.m., and over at PS Collective it’s Outlaw Con Bandana and Miracles of God. $5, 9 p.m.
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