Conor Oberst @ Red Butte Gardens 09.14 With Jonathan Wilson
Oberst juxtaposed songs from Upside Down Mountain with older Bright Eyes tunes, mostly from their iconic album, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” In both cases, a country, almost rockabilly sound was delivered, with cheerful guitar and rousing keys and bass. Oberst has written some more experimental, indie rock music in his career, but this style seems to suit him the best. There were several times throughout the night where he would spin around while playing guitar, clearly full of joy and ferocity. When he played “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order),” his voice cracked sentimentally on the lyric, “They went wild.” It may have been a small detail, but it speaks to the relationship Oberst keeps with his songs as they both grow older.
In “Zigzagging Toward the Light,” we were able to sample the new album in full, live-action glory. The band seemed to beam during this song especially, as they reached a sort of musical climax together onstage. Oberst belted, “I’m blessed with a heart that doesn’t stop.” He’s been writing emotionally vulnerable songs since age 12, and to see him reach a state of well-earned performance bliss was an experience both fans and casual listeners could appreciate. As a special treat for Utahns, he played a song called “Moab,” whose lyrics proclaim, “There is nothing that the road cannot heal.” Oberst continued to stroke our state’s ego by expressing his gratitude for the welcoming kick-off to a tour and mentioning that Red Butte is an above average venue. “We’ll remember this fondly when we’re in the throes of Boise,” he said.
As the evening started to grow to an end, Oberst asked the soundman to turn all the lights blue on the stage for his last song. “If you could make it look the moon up here, that’s what I’m going for,” he requested. The band took a break while Oberst cozied up to a piano and played “The Ladder Song.” He looked like a cosmonaut, drifting meaningfully in space as he sang, “You’re not alone/Even if you’re trying to be.” It would have been a stark and sweet farewell, but it wasn’t long before he was back onstage for an encore. The band trumpeted “Travelin’ Song,” then played a favorite from Oberst’s 2008 album, “Cape Canaveral.” Finally, Oberst announced that the band would like to play a tribute to one their favorite folk songwriters, John Prine. In “Pretty Good,” they got a bit rowdy and jammed out for an intrepid finale.
At the end, a guy next to me apologized to his girlfriend that Oberst didn’t play, “First Day of My Life.” Maybe next time. Let’s hope Oberst continues to write, record and tour either as a solo musician or with Bright Eyes so that we can all continue to relive our days of teenage love and sorrow through his veteran musicianship.