Bright Eyes shows Richmond how the Midwest does music

8 Mar

Bright Eyes performs at The National in Richmond, VA

Sunday evening at 8:05pm, I walked alone down Broad Street in Richmond. I am not the only one to be late  as a stroll up to The National, four people stand in line in front of me as I fumble through my bag for my ticket.

When I enter the venue I see 500+ people before me, all with the same desire to watch two of Saddle-Creek Record’s most prominent acts perform.
After 45 minutes of watching the crew plug in chords and set up stands, Conor Oberst, the lead singer and primary lyricist of folk rock legends Bright Eyes, followed his band onto a dimly lit and already crowded stage. The crowd immediately became distracted by his presence, staring into his eyes in total silence. The power of his charisma and cult like following was instantly undeniable.

The National

The sextet  kicked off with the first track off their latest and tenth studio album The People’s Key, “Firewall.” It sounded great, but it wasn’t what I was waiting for. I crossed my arms and hoped older songs were considered for the set list too. The five lights dispersed around the stage spun around as they finally began the first song I had ever heard of theirs, “Take it Easy (Love Nothing).”

Watching the light shows spin and flash in compliance with the beats and reworking of songs that were initially created lo-fi and acoustic was absolutely fascinating. It takes a lot of courage to rip apart already perfect 12 year old tracks on what has been rumored to be a farewell tour. Every song was performed as if it were on steroids as every single strum and hit was purely intentional.

"If I'm gonna go first, I'll do it on my terms."

Oberst stands at the piano during a performance

As the show went on, Conor expectedly had sipped more and more of his drink and thus became increasingly entertaining; dancing to each song and performing the lyrics with his hands as he sang.  After he dropped the microphone for the third time, I wondered if he was going to be capable to perform much longer. And then he sat down at the piano and played the first few chords of “Ladder Song” from The People’s Key and my faith was restored. The song was beautiful. Far more meaningful than it had been when I listened on the ride over.

I had initially hated the new album. It sounded too different from the first nine and I wasn’t ready to deal with all that change. As a faithful fan of “the old stuff,” the albums that don’t sound like they were recorded in your mom’s basement were difficult to swallow. Watching the new songs being performed live was without a doubt the best cure to my fear of change. Each song boomed  through the venue and each sip of his drink added more life to the performance. As Conor gracefully stumbled across the stage, my nostalgia realized that Bright Eyes would always be the same Bright Eyes, regardless of their increasingly electronic sound and new found love of flashing light shows. Conor Oberst would always be the musical genius that left Omaha for NYC with a brilliant reputation and an acquired taste for wine, all the while hanging on to this Midwestern roots.

Oberst performs  “Lover I Don’t Have To Love”


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