With a catalog as massive and diverse as that of Conor Oberst and his many projects, seeing him live is kind of like a guessing game. What songs do you think he’s going to play? Will he have a band with him, or will he just be by himself? Is he going to go the folksier, Americana root, or will he play his earlier Bright Eyes hits? These are the questions I found myself asking before his performance last night at the Musikfest Café. Luckily, Oberst was kind enough to give us a nice mix from all eras of his career.
Oberst took the stage in the tiny Pennsylvania venue a little after 9 p.m. He came alone, just a guitar and a chair, and began to strum out the delicate intro to “The Big Picture,” a seemingly rare Bright Eyes song that hasn’t been played since he last toured with the Monsters Of Folk. He followed up “The Big Picture” with two more Bright Eyes favorites: the dark and mysterious “Arienette” and the gentle and charming love song “First Day Of My Life.” Needless to say, everyone in the room, myself included, was floored.
Soon, Conor wasn’t alone. A friend accompanied him on a xylophone, which was possibly a marimba judging from its more organ-like sound. It was then that he could really get to work. He tore through “Lenders In The Temple,” a track from his solo record that’s laced with historical and biblical references. People began to sing along and even dance a little as he belted out songs like “At The Bottom Of Everything” and “Cape Canaveral.” The real shock of the night came in the form of two more Bright Eyes classics. Grown men were brought to tears as Oberst crooned the disturbing and incestuous “Amy In The White Coat,” and people swayed back and forth and clapped along to the treat of the simple yet captivating “June On The West Coast.”
After haunting and emotional piano renditions of The People’s Key’s “Ladder Song” and “Breezy” from the Gentlemen’s Pact EP, Oberst asked the crowd if he could take a two-minute bathroom break, and after what felt like the longest two minutes ever, he returned to play a few songs with openers Dawes. Soon, everyone was out of their seats dancing and screaming along to “Soul Singer In A Session Band,” “Moab” and “Method Acting.”
Closing the night with Lifted: Or the Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground’s “Make War,” which Oberst cited as a country song, fans gathered around the tiny stage and held hands, jumped around and sang together with Oberst to bring a nearly two-and-a-half-hour set to a close.