BRIGHT EYES with the Bruces and M. WarD at the Horseshoe, September 15. Tickets: $10.50-$12. Attendance: 350. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
the sprawling stunner of a sun-day-night set by Nebraska indie wunderkind Conor "Bright Eyes" Oberst and his assembled 13-piece orchestra held the overflowing mass of shoulder-bag-totin' alt-emo kids in thrall throughout their transcendent 90-minutes onstage. It was a performance so captivating that people even forgot to try to sneak a forbidden smoke in the back recesses of the Horseshoe.The opening acts, though worthy, paled in comparison to the grand Bright Eyes recital. The Bruces fought early- evening chatter with forgettable shaggy, guitar-driven alt-rock tunes.
Second-stringer M. Ward almost rose to the occasion, because he had members of the Bright Eyes team on his side. Ward showed off an impressive stylistic range, jumping from a dilapidated fingerpicked acoustic number to seething, Pixiesish surf-rock to a delicate cello-buoyed lullaby.
His moment of glory was a masterful and mournful torchy love song evocative of the soundtrack of a film set in a Parisian café. You could decipher an entire narrative in the interplay between the brilliant jazz horn and Ward's great Latin-tinged guitar. It sounded like, well something you'd hear on a Bright Eyes album.
When the headliners finally filed onstage around 11, they looked like the musical equivalent of one of those "how many clowns can you fit in a car?" circus acts. Packing 13 players onto the cramped Horseshoe stage was an impressive -- and difficult -- feat.
They soothed the shuffling crowd with casual, cutesy banter and half-assed requests for gin and tonics -- or, in Oberst's case, drugs.
It was worth the wait. From the first sudden super-vibrato cello charge that led into a swaying, doo-woppy prom ballad, Bright Eyes hit below the belt with an unbearably beautiful assault of pure melody.
The project is Oberst's baby. The dude's been called the indie-rock Bob Dylan, and you can see why. He's an amazing storyteller with a gift for crafting obtuse but astute lyrical observations -- who else could swing a couplet with the southern gothic sting of "Cucumbers cut to fit their eyes / so no one would know how tired they'd grown / from talking and telling their lies"?
And his full-blown orchestra, assembled from the finest of the Saddle Creek stable to replicate the layered sweep of this August's epic Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground disc, fleshed out superb swirling rock tunes. The Good Life's Jiha Lee stood out as an excellent gossamer-voiced girlie foil to Oberst's gruff rattles and yowls in between her stints on music box flute and keyboards.
Highlights were the murky Lover I Don't Have To Love and the sweet encore Love Is Real. A symphonic emo triumph. firstname.lastname@example.org