Last night saw Conor Oberst play a two hour set at The Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts centre. This, however, did not make the show seem any less intimate. Accompanied by the usual concoction of wine and beer, Oberst was at his self deprecating best, at one point quipping ‘I don’t know why you guys sit and listen to this shit.’ For most parts of the show, Conor was alone with just his guitar and his heart wrenching, warbling vocals and this seems to be the way he likes it.
As for the set itself, Oberst managed to churn out hit after hit, featuring songs from three of his many bands as well as some of his solo efforts, spanning over his lengthy and illustrious career. The venue itself was somewhat a perfect setting for the Nebraskan to showcase his songs the way they were intended to be played, and stripped down versions of others, such as ‘Shell Games’ from Bright Eyes’ most recent record The Peoples Key, a release Conor himself admitted that some people did not quite ‘get’.
As well as the favourites, Oberst performed three new songs reminiscent of his earlier releases, all of which came with a story of their origins and inspirations. This event allowed the sold out crowd to witness Oberst at his most vulnerable, and you sensed that everyone in the hall realised that as they hung on to every word, which allowed Oberst’s intricate lyricism to really shine through. His topics of drug addiction, emotional insecurity and relationships have earned him the accolade of ‘The defining songwriter of his generation.’
Conor wasn’t entirely alone throughout the set, enlisting the help of multi-instrumentalist Ben Brodin and violinist Simi Stone. The harmonies of Stone complimented the vocal style of Oberst flawlessly, showcased best during the performance of ‘Lua’ in which Conor and Simi shared vocals. The climax of ‘Lua’ saw Simi take centre stage and demonstrate her fantastic range and strength of vocals to the point where one crowd member let out a simple yet astounded exclamation of ‘wow,’ an opinion entirely shared by his fellow audience.
The show seemed more mature than the last time he played in the UK with Bright Eyes in 2011, a thought corroborated by Oberst himself as he admitted to the crowd that he is beginning to feel elderly, before launching in to new song ‘You Are Your Mother’s Child,’ a song essentially about ‘dirt bag dads.’
During the show, Oberst contemplated popular culture, and how he feels he has never been part of it, or understood it. Yet, if he proved anything with this remarkable performance, it is that you do not need to be popular to be considered one of the very best musicians around.
Conor Oberst played:
The Big Picture
First Day of my Life
Going for the Gold
Lenders in the Temple
Night at Lake Unknown
At the Bottom of everything
You Are Your Mother’s Child
Map of the World
An Attempt to Tip the Scales
Waste of Paint
Conor Oberst plays The Dublin National Concert Hall tonight (5th February) and plays five UK dates with Desaparecidos beginning in Dublin on the 7th February.
Dance Yrself Clean
Photo credit: An Endless Static Sea