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Bright Eyes Look Back, Gaze Forward

March 10th, 2011

Bright Eyes – Radio City Music Hall – March 9, 2011

Bright Eyes - Radio City Music Hall - March 9, 2011
Bright Eyes performed the second of their two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall last night in support of their new record, The People’s Key. The evening was bookended with the album’s opening and closing tracks, the grunge-inspired “Firewall,” setting things off, and the uplifting “One for You, One for Me,” sending us on our way at the end of the night. As for the space in between, frontman Conor Oberst took the crowd on a nostalgic trip through some of the band’s extensive back catalog, reaching as deep as 1998’s “Padraic My Prince,” and also treating the crowd to versions of “The Calendar Hung Itself” and “An Attempt to Tip the Scales” from Fevers and Mirrors, released more than 10 years ago.

Although the music of Bright Eyes was originally associated with emotive, often glum, and at times uncomfortably honest songwriting, over the past few albums, Oberst’s songwriting has gradually shifted in focus, growing to favor the metaphysical over the personal. Yet last night, he seemed to relish the opportunity to revisit lyrics and themes from his most introspective days, including “The Trees Got Wheeled Away,” “Take It Easy (Love Nothing),” “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” and a poignant version of “Poison Oak.”

As the band performed older songs side by side with new numbers such as “Jejune Stars” and “Shell Games,” the night served as an impressive chronology of Oberst’s journey as a songwriter and musician, his fascinations and hang-ups, his political inclinations and protests, and his explorations of different sounds and musical styles. Whether he was pacing the stage while shouting out the lyrics to songs off I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning or seated at his keyboard slowly plucking out The People’s Key’s pensive “Ladder Song,” Oberst seemed comfortable and content with revising where Bright Eyes’ music has been and where it’s going. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Andy Keilen | spartanmarchingband.smugmug.com/Music