If there’s one thing thats easy to joke about these days, it’s the ever looming passage of time for us Millennials. We had once made fun of our parents as they tried to fit into their varsity jacket again and regale us with stories of their youth, and nowadays we find ourselves doing the same thing in one form or another. Opening act Christian Lee Hutson joked on stage “I remember skipping gym class and watching my friends play soccer or baseball or whatever and listening to Bright Eyes on my nano pink ipod.” While our memories may be less physically tangible than our parents (don’t look at the price of a 00’s nano pink ipod on ebay) we will always remember the soundtrack to our youth. For many audience members, that soundtrack was Bright Eyes.
Even Conor Oberst, Bright Eyes frontman and now venturing into his early forties, did not deny that his youth is well behind him. “Dude, I think you need reading glasses” he said, doing an impression of a friend to the crowd between songs. He told a friend of his that texts were hard to read, and things up close were fuzzy now. “So I went to Walgreens and picked up a nice pair.” in between nervous, muddled laughter from the crowd, he continued “They work!”. Even between some songs, Oberst chimed in, singing verses from Reelin’ In The Years. Overall, it felt a bit melancholy to be here as a tribute to our youth, fans trying to fit into their best grungy plaid, leather skirts and platform boots, only to listen to Conor Oberst tell us about his need for reading glasses and sing Steely Dan lyrics. The poor eyesight bit continued with a giant eye chart banner that was displayed behind the band. “Must be viewed from a distance of 15,000 feet” it read in the bottom corner. We laughed through our own glasses and lower back pain.
Regardless of age, and the soreness that comes with it, however, Bright Eyes puts on a good show. St. Paul was the first night of their spring tour, so the flubs and imperfections that make up a good emo band were plentiful, intentional or not. Fans were treated to a full 22 song setlist, of which was a broad selection of the Bright Eyes/Oberst catalog. Falling Out of Love at This Volume came all the way back from 1998’s A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995–1997. The third song of the night Bowl Of Oranges from 2002’s Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground elicited the loudest cheer of the night from the crowd. Bright Eyes latest release, 2020’s Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was also featured 4 songs in the setlist as well. And, of course, phone videos were plentiful for the first encore song and the hallmark of any millennial wedding now, First Day of My Life from 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Joining the band onstage tonight as well was a 8 piece string band as well, who added depth to many songs like Dance and Sing and Comet Song.
As much as people love their shy, faded black clothed emo boys, Oberst seemed somewhat strung out on stage tonight. His singing was spot on for most of the songs, however when speaking to the crowd, his speech was slurred, and he often seemed to get lost in his own side stories. This seemed to be a bit of a different Oberst compared to when I last saw him here in 2019 as part of the Better Oblivion Community Center with Phoebe Bridgers. At that show, he seemed a bit more reserved, and was more upright and focused. Tonight, he seemed to keep his hair over his eyes, and stumbled around the stage, running into his steel-guitarist at one point, although i’ll put that more on the “First night of the tour and the stage setup is new” than anything else. “I love you, you beautiful twins” he called us. “If I lived here, I’d sleep with my torso in Minneapolis, and my feet in….Saint Paul.”
A few blocks away from the Palace tonight, Elton John was performing the second of two shows in St. Paul on his second Farewell tour. And at his age, (turning 75 in just a couple days) many people consider that to be “Inspirational” ‘’Miraculous” and “Courageous” for him to still perform a show at that scale. While the overlap in the venn-diagram for Elton John fans and Bright Eyes fans is probably somewhat small, One thing both of these fans had in common minging in the same bars last night, was that they were both here to see a band that is just as old as they are. Perhaps it became all too apparent we’ve been putting off the inevitable for too long. We’re fucking old now. We’ve reached the day where Conor Oberst has to use reading glasses. The reality of our time on earth seemed to hit some people tonight. Our glory days in school may not have been making state championships in baseball like our parents. Maybe our glory days are watching other people make state championships in baseball while listening to Bright Eyes on a nano pink Ipod. In any case, I bet it feels the same.