Rock City Nottingham, Wednesday 9 February 2011
The perfect way to start an evening is of course to change the venue of a gig. On the day, making the doors open an hour earlier. No surprise then that when the doors did open there were only a handful of keen Bright Eyes enthusiasts ready to plough forward.
The stage was already kitted out for the band with several keyboard/organs, guitars, accordion, a steel lap guitar, shakers, tambourines and two drum kits. The word in the crowd was that there would be no support band and this seemed to confirm the rumour. Then a gangly young Nottingham boy marches out, takes centre stage and plays a couple of cutesy brit-folk songs. This is We Show Up on RadaR, a one man performer who tries earnestly to mix humour with lof-fi indie. However, this crowd is having none of it and all but a few people talk and hold conversations over his performance.
When the door at the back of the stage next opens it is over the opening monologue from The People's Key - the new Bright Eyes album. The crowd forces forward as the ensemble band walks out. Conor Oberst coolly takes up his guitar and begins picking just as the voice-over stops. 'Firewall' is a great opener for both the gig and the album, detailing some of the main themes which preoccupy the record: life, death, time, space and reality. Mike Mogis makes the steel lap guitar sound extra terrestrial and, somehow, not country anymore. The set is dotted with more new songs, of which 'Jejune Stars' and 'Triple Spiral' standout best. Some of the others gave them more trouble leading to false starts on 'Beginners Mind' and 'A Machine Spiritual (The People's Key)'. Previous albums are pillaged much to the delight and delirium from the crowd, only Letting Off the Happiness is left untouched.
In an attempt to channel the bliss the crowd feel they sing every song back at the band with impeccable accuracy and with great passion. Conor Oberst is like a man possessed as he dances around the stage, with puppet string movements and a seemingly uncontrollable urge to jig. And much has to be said for his supporting cast of Mike Mogis, Nate Walcott and co, without whom the music wouldn't have such a diverse sound ranging from Krautrock to Americana. The set hightlights brilliantly both the boyish and emotional youth of the band and the more recent mature, spiritual elements. We are treated to a solo rendition of 'Lua' with Nate playing solos on trumpet, and the dual drumming of 'Gold Mine Gutted' makes for a truly powerful encore. Early in the show the whole band were heckled by an American girl who had clearly spent most of her life following the band around. She eventually invoked a humorous and exasperated "Jesus f****** Christ" from Mr. Oberst when she mentioned a bar back in America which he claimed owed him money. Feeling guilty about his outburst the band played 'Something Vague' for a second time that night at the girl's insistence and to the crowd's amusement.
The band are only two dates into the tour and are finding their feet with new material but gave a passionate and forceful performance showing just how much musical growth and potential they have in them. Conor seems to have come to terms with being a modern icon, making conversation and cracking jokes more easily than in the past. If the rumours are right it would be a shame for them to call it a day so soon.