Bright Eyes

Tim Stelloh

The guy who was once labeled an extremely talented -- though a tad simplistic - is now a troubadour of depth and complexity.

Bright Eyes

Bright Eyes

City: Chicago
Venue: The Riviera
Date: 2005-01-17

Bright Eyes
Bright Eyes shows usually have a few things in common. There's the red wine, of course, swilled by the quietly melodramatic Conor Oberst; there's the overeager crowd, primped to a T in scarves, immaculately styled hair, and leotard-like jeans; there's the teenage girl who's crouched on the ground, head between her hands, sulking over God knows what; there's the teenage guy who, in a fit of irrepressible camaraderie, screams along to Oberst's tales of depression and angst, despite the angry pleas of fellow fans to stop. Put in context, this particular crowd seemed tame. Oberst is, after all, indie-rock's man of the hour: the singles form his newly released sister albums I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn debuted at number one and number two on the billboard charts. In the last few months he's appeared in virtually every rock glossy, somehow emerging with his reputation unscathed. The guy who was once labeled an extremely talented -- though a tad simplistic -- adolescent songwriter is no more. Wide Awake and Digital Ash have transformed him into a troubadour of depth and complexity. But for all Oberst's increasing nuance, it's still the political sloganeering and dramatic voice-crackles that stir the crowd (not that this is any surprise; it's pretty difficult to imagine anyone hollering along to many of the tracks on Digital Ash). The show's climax, after all, came with Oberst's violently twangy solo rendition of "When the President Talks to God", a cut that is -- surprise surprise -- about the unabashed religious beliefs of a certain former Texas governor. His sputtering vocal stylings still manage to impart an intimacy not often felt in theatres the size of hockey rinks. Even in the nosebleed seats, where I spent the second half of the set, you could almost hear the collective moan during "The First Day of My Life". It was "Road to Joy", the final anthem on I'm Wide Awake, that truly brought the house down. As they had been throughout the show, the band was as technically proficient and propulsive as a jazz group that's been touring together forever, a fact made all the more impressive by the fact that Bright Eyes only recently started the tour and that the band has a revolving door policy towards members. The song concluded with a glaring horn part as each band member wailed through a final malicious burst. Meanwhile, Oberst lurched around stage like Marty McFly, eventually tossing his guitar in the air and letting it crash on the stage floor beside him. Though Oberst's lack of interest in the crowd is frustrating, not to mention downright pretentious, and though his lyricism still occasionally feels like an annoyingly self-righteous hammer to the head, there isn't a soul in pop music who can do what Conor Oberst does. And for that, he deserves to be commended. His live performance is, after all, the perfect synthesis of all he wails about on his records. Whether you like it or not, his earnest melodrama is in full force.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.