Live Review: Jenny and Conor and The Anchor Inn…

Category: Blog — @ 6:04 pm September 22, 2008

The best news about Saturday night’s concert: The Anchor Inn. Where has this place been all my life? Why aren’t there more (non-redneck) rock shows hosted here?

I admit to having been a little tenuous about driving down there after a long day, and almost didn’t. Where exactly was this place? Would we have to park in a field? Would I have to wait in long lines to 1) get in, 2) buy a beer, 3) take a leak? Do I really have the patience to withstand such an enormous hassle? And what about all the bikers that The Anchor Inn is famous for?

I decided not to sissy-out and Googled the place on my iPhone. It wasn’t too tricky to find — get on Abbott Drive and follow the trail of tail lights headed to the concert. At the end of a long, uneven paved road was the marina-like bar/restaurant and a team of yellow-shirted security guys who directed me to a parking spot only a few yards from the entrance. Despite the concert having started two hours earlier (I missed Son, Ambulance and Matt Focht) there was a long line to get in. Ah, but a plethora of security guys checking IDs shortened the wait. Too bad they couldn’t do anything about the swarm of Obama people asking if we were registered voters (The whole event felt like an Obama rally from the moment we arrived).

After about 10 minutes, we were in. Walking around the restaurant revealed the huge permanent outdoor stage, large enough to handle almost any performer. Just beyond the restaurant’s patio were dozens of picnic tables that led down to an open space in front of the stage. Getting a beer from the outdoor bar took only a couple minutes (no lines, but that might be because a can of Bud Light cost $4). In back was a tent that sold McKenna’s Barbecue, while a row of portajohns sat tucked away left of the stage area. Despite a crowd of 2,000, it never felt crowded. The owner said the venue has handled crowds exceeding 6,000, thanks to a huge field south of the stage that leads down to the river. Add to all that the fact that it was the best sound I’ve ever heard at an outdoor event and this place has the makings of an outdoor music Nirvana. I was blown away. So was One Percent, who said they’re considering hosting more shows there next year. The Anchor Inn certainly has my vote.

Which brings us to the musical portion of the review. While Conor was the headliner, Jenny Lewis and her band was just as much of a draw. Looking like a band of hippies (everyone on stage wore hippie hats, the bass player wore a pseudo American flag vest that looked right out of Easy Rider), her six-piece outfit sounded like the second-coming of the Allman Bros complete with boogie-woogie country rock vibe. The sometimes flaccid songs off her new album, Acid Tongue, roared to life in living, psychedelic color. Lewis, who has one of the best voices in indie music today, belted out one song after another, backed vocally in duets by Jonathan Rice (who sang the Elvis Costello part on “Carpetbaggers” and also shared in the unfortunate cover of “Love Hurts” “dedicated to Barack and Hillary”). Lewis appeared to be having a much better time at this show than the last Rilo Kiley concert down at Slowdown. Something tells me that this band and this music could take over everything in her career.

I had the same feeling about Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. The six-piece came on at around 11:30 dressed in matching dark-blue satin jackets with their band logo embroidered on the back. Oberst went through two guitars during the first song, a testimony to the equipment problems the band was having — they had to use Lewis’ gear as theirs didn’t show up until minutes before the concert. No matter, the band sounded great ripping through a set of country rock songs that had new life when performed live with this crew. Like Lewis, Oberst looked like he was having the time of his life. He was much more animated than at the usually staid Bright Eyes shows where he’s playing in front of a stringed quartet or brass section. Here it was simple, all-out country rock, loose and fun, eager and relaxed. I left wondering how Oberst could possibly go back to the indie straight-jacket that is Bright Eyes. The answer: He won’t, at least not anytime soon. As I said before, Mystic Valley will continue through the end of the year, and then Oberst will focus on his M. Ward/Jim James collaboration, a band that will likely be as free-wheelin’ as this one was.

But after seeing this show, the thought of Bright Eyes never coming back at all crept into my mind. Oberst is ever moving forward. He’s always looking at the next project, the next opportunity, rarely looking into his rear view mirror at what he’s accomplished. Certainly he’ll continue to work with folks from Bright Eyes — Nate Walcott is a member of the Mystic Valley Band, and Oberst and Mike Mogis will always be joined through ARC and other projects. So could Bright Eyes become this year’s Desaparecidos? Every time I asked Oberst in interviews if Desa was happening again, he’d say, yes of course, it’s just a matter of scheduling. Until the last time I asked, when he said Desa represented a time in his life that has long passed. The same could be said of Bright Eyes and that project’s catalog of forlorn classics perfectly designed to make the little girls cry. Looking around the crowd at Saturday night’s show, there wasn’t a tear to be seen…

* * *

Tonight at Slowdown Jr., those ever-lovin’ muppets known as Talkin’ Mountain with Love Like Fire, Robert Adam and DJ Kobrakyle. $6, 9 p.m.

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