Whats a good indie act without a complicated frontman?
For some musical acts, when you buy a ticket, you’re essentially buying a level of hope. Hope that the band will play your favorite song, your cherished deep cut, that they’ll spot you in the crowd and share a brief moment of eye contact. Or, lately in the case of Bright Eyes – Hope that they’re going to put on a good show.
2022 was quite a ride for Bright Eyes, with Conor Oberst and his band embarking on a world tour, performing a total of 85 shows, Including a show in Texas where Oberst left the stage after only two songs, leaving the band to perform Bright Eyes-themed karaoke with the audience. The venue eventually offered refunds. These incidents started to become a bit more common over the tour, triggering concern online in various Facebook groups and subreddits from dedicated fans eager to hear reviews, first asking “How was the show?” and then following up with the more important question: “How was Conor?” Responses, unfortunately, have varied greatly. Fans have begun to outwardly show genuine concern for the singer-songwriter. Others may be holding onto their cash until the last minute based on how likely Oberst is to fall off a stage.
Minnesotans, however, are often known for their kindness. In the audience that night, there were no murmurs about substance abuse or the quality of the show, not even when Oberst took us on a rambling, slurry soliloquy about his move to New York City, and being left behind from his tour bus. The story became difficult to follow as the audience lost interest and started their own conversations. “Are you still there?!” he asked halfway through, eliciting hollers from the front row, the die-hard listeners who hung on to every word.
At one point, Oberst himself seemed to realize the night was perhaps not going as well as it could have, and seemed to gently nudge the crowd to leave toward the end of the night. “Just saying, if you’re tired, or you have a babysitter, or need to call a ride, We..like..aren’t offended if you leave. You won’t miss much from here.” An odd thing to say to a paying audience, but perhaps an attempt to get off the stage a little faster, or a warning that he wasn’t going to perform “First Day of My Life”. (Spoiler: he did not.)
Despite the peculiar ramblings, which spanned from topics like abortion control in Texas and Elon Musk to French cinema, and even spending a few minutes attempting to pit residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis against each other to determine which of the cities was superior, the show itself was at least musically satisfying. Oberst and his band powered through a full 21-song setlist, with a strong focus on 2005’s “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” The band, now scaled down from the larger ensemble from the previous year’s tour (which included an eight-piece string orchestra), performed excellently. Oberst himself didn’t seem to flub any of his own lines. In fact, he added a few new lines to songs like “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now.” His singing remained on point, with his lyrics coming through clearly, unlike the ramblings.
Another highlight of the night was the opening act, Maya Hawke. The actress and musician, along with her trio, kicked off the night with a 45-minute set. Hawke – who had toured through Minneapolis just a month before, was warmly welcomed back. She too engaged the audience between songs, although her stories revolved around her songs, a stark contrast to the political commentary by the headliner later on. Hawke was a beacon of light for the evening, speaking about her happiness hearing the crowd sing along to her newer material, and making clever quips about her own songs. Smiling before “Crazy Kid”, a song about the dangers of age differences in relationships, she joked that everyone should try it sometime. Hawke also expressed her gratitude to Bright Eyes, thanking them for inviting her to join the tour at the last minute. She shared stories of when she began listening to and playing their music at an early age and that they carry some nostalgia. When friends inquired if she had written a Bright Eyes song that she performed in middle school, she playfully claimed she had.
Like Maya, many people in the audience were tuned into Bright Eyes at an early age, and with that, the band carries some nostalgia. The nostalgia bone is one tha has started aching for many lately – yearning for a metaphorical icy-hot patch of the past to dull it’s pain. Bright Eyes was once a remedy, but lately, it seems more and more people are beginning to raise questions on the effectiveness of that prescription.