Column 313: Paradise Lost (Bright Eyes at 30,000 feet); NYT review; Sugar & Gold, Talking Mountain tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , — @ 1:24 pm March 10, 2011

Providenciales, March 4, 2011

Providenciales, March 4, 2011

Column 313: Paradise Lost

Bright Eyes from 30,000 feet…

by Tim McMahan,

Dateline, Providenciales.

We walked between the red stripes painted on the hot tarmac as we headed to the loading ramp, a long line of tanned Americans leaving this third-world vacation destination to return to whatever frigid lands we had escaped from, if only for a week. On a short hillside to my left, next to the tiny airport, was a wall of unpainted cinderblocks stacked in a stair-step row, a half-built something that would never be completed sitting next to a salmon-colored fortress of pillars and concrete latticework.

A young blond woman in a concert T-shirt who had waited with us in the infinitely long security line had said that only a few years earlier, the island had been dirt roads and little else except for the resorts, of course, which had been built along the coastline like modern-day palaces. Since then, Providenciales, part of the Turks and Caicos chain of islands in the North Atlantic, had grown up. The roads were now paved and shops had sprung out of the dirt.

The island certainly had outgrown its airport, which was bursting at its water-stained seams, unable to handle the tidal wave of tourists all scheduled to leave at the same time because the airlines hadn’t bothered to stagger the departures. It was like every chaotic train station scene from every war movie ever made, but with costumes provided by Tommy Bahama. An hour later, the check-in and security lines were gone. The uniformed staff sat in plastic chairs with nothing to do until tomorrow’s departures.

I write this aboard Delta flight 548 while listening to the new album by Memphis, Here Comes a City, as the smell of the soiled diaper sandwiched to the ass of the child in the seat in front of me wafts through the cabin and into my unfortunate nostrils. Much of the past week had been spent listening to Bob Marley piped from the hidden sound system of the Cabana Bar where everyone drank ice cold bottles of Presidente beer and watched the sun set on the ocean. I thanked the Sun God that at least it wasn’t Jimmy Buffett. Memphis was an oasis.

Some notes while I’ve been gone:

Homer’s head honcho Mike Fratt said that Bright Eyes’ The People’s Key came in at No. 40 on the Billboard charts during the record’s second week of sales, moving 11,314 units. Normally that would have landed Conor and Co. higher on the chart, but it was “another BIG week at Soundscan,” he said, “sales are on a roll. Adele did over 350k.” Yikes.

Despite the launch of the Bright Eyes Global Domination Tour, that number should slowly decline until the band’s next network appearance. I’ve been told that once a band plays on The Late Show with David Letterman or any other competing late-night show, that they’re blackballed from appearing on Saturday Night Live, which is a shame because BE would do real damage on SNL, and deserves the spot.

But you take what you can get, I suppose, and Letterman has been a faithful supporter of Conor for years. Oberst certainly knows who has been in his corner since the beginning. Let’s hope he remembers when it comes time to schedule local interviews surrounding the June Westfair date.

I get these psychic visions every now and then, and the most recent one told me that overall music sales are bouncing back. Fratt said my hunch was correct. “The two previous weeks both beat last year’s sales,” he said. “That’s the first time we have had consecutive back-to-back weeks that have beat last year since 2006.”

Fratt thinks the music industry, which has been spiraling ever downward since the Napster days, has finally touched its toes in the mud of a very deep lake.  “I’m thinking we may have finally reached bottom,” he said. “Album sales (full length) remain 74 percent physical, 26 percent digital at this moment. A pretty staggering stat. Only small sellers — under 1,000 units — have digital sales greater than physical. And once sales cross 500,000 units, digital falls below 18 percent.”

And get this: “The indie sector is actually back to gaining market share,” Fratt said, “1 percent in 2010. Not a lot, but 1 percent of 430 million (units) is decent money.”

He thinks the new Bright Eyes album will float sales of the band’s entire back catalog. We’ll see. Music website reported that Oberst and his crew have decided to make another record, (probably) putting an end to speculation that Bright Eyes will die after its year-plus-long tour ends. The band’s demise was a silly premise to begin with, when Oberst is Bright Eyes and will continue to work with fellow BE members Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott in one form or another regardless of the name of the project.

That said, somewhere the folks at Saddle Creek Records breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone knew Conor would continue to write and record music, but none of his non-BE stuff is released on The Creek. Far and away, Bright Eyes is the label’s only remaining cash cow (in addition to the label’s dynamite back catalog). The release of The People’s Key may be enough to give Saddle Creek a year-over-year increase in revenue when compared to 2010. But even with their golden goose safely within the stable, Saddle Creek needs to find another Bright Eyes to add to its roster.

And with that, the wheels tapped down on a different, much colder tarmac. My vacation was over, and it was time to get back to work.

* * *

That column was written this past weekend. Since then, sales numbers have come out for week three of The People’s Key. According to Fratt, the album sold 5,738 units last week, putting it at No. 84 on the charts. The three-week sales total: 58,237.

Last week also marked the third week in a row that Soundscan numbers for all records sold beat last year’s sales, but only by 1 percent. Still…

* * *

Jon Pareles of The New York Times weighed in on Bright Eyes’ March 8 Radio City Music Hall concert. His conclusion: “But the concert had a strange, unsatisfying disconnect between the sound of the music and its flashy, defensive staging. It was as if Bright Eyes were delivering confessions and frailties via fire engine.” You can read the full review here.

* * *

Tonight at O’Leaver’s, it’s the long-awaited return of Talking Mountain. Joining them are Mammoth Life and The Benningtons. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, over at The Waiting Room, it’s SF electro-disco act Sugar & Gold (Antenna Farm Records) with Athens’ Yip Deceiver. Good-time party dance music for $8. Starts at 9.

* * *

Speaking of the Waiting Room, yesterday was the venue’s fourth birthday. Relive those early days with this Lazy-i feature on Marc and Jim from March 8, 2007.

* * *

Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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