Music Features

Bright Eyes: Live at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford (18/03/2007)

It's a night of snow and posh punks. The line for the show is so long that it has to be split into two. There are backpacked youngsters, middle-aged fathers and the aforementioned middle-class faux punks. It seems that everyone wants a slice of Bright Eyes pie.

Oxford Brookes' 1200 capacity is soon stretched and the stage is almost set for a night of apocalyptic revelry. First we have the ad hoc charisma of Jake Bellows to enjoy. He is one of those rare performers who are able to write beautifully melancholic songs, whilst simultaneously managing to be funny, without being too irritating. With a set list written on a paper plate and a bunch of new songs, which he admittedly isn't "even sure how they go," it could have been a disaster. Luckily, with a skilled band consisting of the rest of the latest incarnation of Bright Eyes (minus Oberst of course), the songs are imbued with an improvisational charm, and the set is a small victory.

In the short break between sets the stage is peppered with palm trees, no doubt some oblique contextual reference to the new Bright Eyes album, Cassadaga. The lights dim and the band returns, complete with Bellows and his wit, with a longhaired Conor Oberst amongst them. Without fanfare the band launch into I Must Belong Somewhere, the sound is fantastic and the band are great. Oberst's voice is meatier live, sounding strong and ready for the lengthy tour that's sure to follow the new album's release. Although there are no smiles from Oberst, he looks well, and as the pace slows for a first class version of We Are Nowhere, a few hearts break.

The set is heavy with songs from Cassadaga and the Four Winds ep, but there is a familiarity, mixed with a certain confidence, that makes arguments for crowd pleasing redundant. With mostly upbeat numbers to propel the set along, time flies in flashes of brilliance and promise. There is a lull in the set when the acoustic thrum of Tourist Trap, it simply jars within the context of an ostensibly "Rockin'" show. This is a minor quibble; by the time the tour hits cities in the summer it will be something profound and unshakeable.

The band seem to be having a lot of fun and even Oberst manages a wry smile when someone shouts, "We love you Mike!" Later Oberst pays his own tribute to his friend Mike Mogis, when he calls him "a very special man". The night ends with one encore and a sly slice of showmanship from Oberst. The band play a familiar tune, with a rock/bluegrass twist, minus the frontman. Just when you think this may simply be an instrumental interlude Oberst enters stage right and the band launch into a magnificent version of June On The West Coast. Grown men cry.

Mr. Oberst... Welcome to the big time.