For longtime fans of Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst brought an early Christmas present.
During Friday's show at the Witherspoon Concert Hall at Joslyn Art Museum, Oberst played selections that dated back to when he was a warbly voiced teenager as well as brand new songs that no one had yet heard.
The entire night felt like a coffee house show — the kind these artists did a decade or so ago — but on a much grander scale.
With Oberst seated and strumming on guitar, musician friends joined him for songs from his entire catalog while just more than 1,000 people looked on.
Oberst played Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk songs along with solo material. The only stuff he didn't touch was from his punk band Desaparecidos, and those songs wouldn't work well with an acoustic guitar.
Oberst has grown more confident and more talented since his early coffee house days. He used to have a reputation for stage fright and inferior guitar skills, but he's done away with all that.
Oberst held his own for the entire show. Orenda Fink of Azure Ray sang backup vocals, while multi-instrumentalist Ben Brodin sat in on guitar — electric, acoustic and slide — and vibraphone. They were there, but Oberst was clearly the leader, and his guitar work and voice were center stage.
When the show started, Oberst unceremoniously marched onstage, picked up a guitar and started strumming “The Big Picture.” The audience responded with a few cheers but stayed reverently quiet for most of the show.
Simple yet honest love song “First Day of My Life” was the second tune, and Oberst followed with “Common Knowledge” and “Arienette.”
Many of those were quiet songs, but the musicians ramped it up with “Cape Canaveral.” It started with quiet strumming and ended with Oberst banging out the beat on his guitar and Brodin jamming the lead parts.
“How y'all feelin'? Good?” Oberst asked later in the show.
He made continued references to the end of the Mayan calendar and rumored doomsday that brought a lot of giggles.
“After we're done, you all will have about 45 minutes left,” he said to laughs. “I really do appreciate you guys coming, all things considered.”
Fans kept applause during songs pretty polite in anticipation of what was coming next.
Oberst reached deep into the well to play “June on the West Coast,” a 1998 song that's one of my favorites by Bright Eyes.
He also eventually played some new songs including “Night at Lake Unknown,” a song about insomnia and dreams with such lines as “when I can't sleep, my mind's a circle.”
He followed with a self-professed “exceptionally sentimental” tune, and the best new song of the evening, about raising a young boy that had a refrain of “soon you'll be grown and then you'll be on your own.”
Though Oberst was the main event, Brodin's talents added depth to the songs. His work on the vibraphone brought a pretty yet stark melody to many of the songs, especially “Lua.”
Fink's voice added depth to that song, where she took one verse herself, and others as well.
Oberst dedicated songs to his friends in the audience, many of whom were area musicians.
Later, Morgan Nagler and Jake Bellows of opening band Whispertown joined Oberst and company onstage.
With friends coming on and off stage and Oberst debuting lots of new material, the stage felt like a living room full of friends and instruments where the audience got a peek at something new and exciting.
During the “la da da da” section of “Laura Laurent,” Oberst tossed his mic into the audience and led them in a singalong.
Oberst finished the set with “Breezy” before re-entering for an encore that started with “An Attempt to Tip the Scales.”
The show's climax came with “Make War,” a song about a love that's ended, and all of Oberst's friends joined him onstage to sing.
With several people seated and strumming and others crowded around microphones, it really drove home the living room feel.
The audience appreciated the song and cheered wildly at the end. Oberst waved and thanked the audience.
“I hope you have a great holiday,” Oberst said before hinting, again, that the world was going to end at midnight. “It's not gonna matter. You're not gonna have a holiday. Have a good 40 minutes.”
Oberst finished the set with a slightly modified version of “Waste of Paint,” which rambles a bit but ends with the line “all I want, to be loved.”
After delivering such a tight, intimate and wide-ranging set, it's no surprise that Oberst got the love he was looking for. The audience got to their feet to thank him for the show.
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