Donnelly: Bright Eyes Disses Kansas Pols at the Uptown, Saturday April 2, 2011

Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst is a dramatic guy.  Some critics might say that’s his downfall. The self-importance, the grand ideas, and the naivete that permeate his music.  

Those people think, "Is this guy for real?  This is some sappy, self-aware, sentimental, emo crap."

Fair enough.

And apparently, he’s not big on Republicans.  More on that later…

I don’t think any of those critics bothered to shell out the 30 or so bucks to get into the Uptown on Saturday night.  No, the crowd was made up of seasonsed Bright Eyes fans who knew almost all the lyrics to almost all the songs.  Impressive, considering how wordy Oberst is. 

Oberst came to KC with big band in tow – two drummers, keys, several keyboards, lap steel, trumpet, accordian, bass, guitar – and he made use of them all, sometimes all at once.  Sometimes so much so that the waters got a little muddied, especially on the anthemic choruses that Oberst is so fond of, with the lead vocals getting a tad buried. 

The other nit I would pick on the technical side is the early-eighties prog tone that the lead guitarist seemed to go back to too often.  Occasionally, it seemed to not mesh perfectly with all the other musical ideas happening on stage, of which there were many as mentioned. 

For the most part, though, the instrumentation worked to a T, particularly when transitioning from quiet intros with Oberst’s thin trademark quivering voice into grand sing along choruses.  The driving drum beat was the most pervasive element all night long, with a mix of electronic and live percussion pounding polyrhythms, urging on the rantings of a mad-man with greasy black hair.  But Oberst’s voice was actually surprisingly non-quivery.  He sounded much more forceful live than he does on some of the studio albums. 

The band opened energetically with a couple off their new album, "The People’s Key," first track "Firewall," and second track, "Jejune."  The crowd greeted the new ones with as much enthusiasm as the old ones, a sign of Oberst’s magnetic personality and knack for writing touching lyrics that, from the look of the audience, lots of teenage goth/emo girls really connect with.

And they love Conor Oberst, they believe his words, and reject the notion that just because he seems trite at times, that his music is somehow less "serious."  Oberst can say anything at this point, and know that his loyal and diehard following will play along. 

Which is kind of what happened toward the end of the show. 

Just prior to playing the country-tinged, "Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)," Oberst launched into a political tirade, singling out Kansas crazy man and secretary of state, Kris Kobach.  "We’re coming for you, motherfucker!" screamed the bandleader.  And not just Kobach, but also "your governor," (apparently he thought he was in Kansas) and the "Nebraska governor." 

"They’re fundamentalist Christians and they’re out of their fucking minds!" Conor frothed in between motherfuckers and middle fingers.

By the end of the night Bright Eyes had delivered quite admirably, playing most of the tracks off the new album without skimping on old favorites.  Their set list was twenty five deep and included the popular "Four Winds," "Arc of Time," "Poison Oak" and lots of others.  Though it is kind of difficult to pick out "popular" Bright Eyes songs, just because their fanbase loves them all so much.

With all the energy and passion that Conor Oberst brings to the stage, I can see why. 

Setlist:
Firewall
Jejune Stars
Take It Easy
Four Winds
Bowl of Oranges
Something Vague
Trees Get Wheeled Away
Shell Games
Approximate Sunlight
Arc of Time
Falling Out of Love
Triple Spiral
Attempt to Tip the Scales
Hot Knives
Beginner’s Mind
Cartoon Blues
Poison Oak
Old Soul Song (For the new world order)
Calendar Hung Itself
Ladder Song
Lua
Encore:
Goldmine Gutted
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Road to Joy
One For You, One For Me.

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