Conor Oberst – Carnegie Hall – November 21, 2012
Outside Carnegie Hall last Wednesday, scalpers were offering tickets for Bright Eyes the night before Thanksgiving. What the what? Bright Eyes at Carnegie Hall? ’Twas true, as one Conor Oberst headlined a sold-out Stern Auditorium. From musical wunderkind to revered label chief, the 32-year-old’s long career was on full display in the famed hall’s confines. Covering material largely from his band, Bright Eyes, Oberst was dressed to the nines with a Calla lily boutonniere adorning his breast pocket and began his set solo with “The Big Picture.” Crooning the last line of the song from Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground, his vocals reverberated throughout the hall.
Joined by multi-instrumentalist Ben Brodin, Oberst introduced new material early on with “Common Knowledge.” Getting comfortable, he joked that it was great to kick back in a venue that reminded him of shows back in his hometown of Omaha, Neb. Adding more company on the vast stage, Oberst called upon Rachel Cox to accompany him on “Classic Cars,” and long-term Bright Eyes member, Nate Walcott, sneaked onstage unbeknownst to Oberst until Walcott seated himself with trumpet in hand for “Southern State.” The number was thoroughly enhanced with classical keys from the black Steinway, which was one of the most expected instruments at the hallowed venue. Having played “At the Bottom of Everything” in 2004 for the Tibet House Benefit Concert, Oberst revealed it wasn’t his first time performing at Carnegie Hall.
Women play a big part in Oberst’s songwriting canon, which was also the case with “You Are Your Mother’s Child,” a new song. With James Felice on accordion, Oberst continued his female-inspired musings, playing “Ten Women,” a song he described as being careful what you wish for. The oldie “Laura Laurent” was a fan favorite, although its material sadly chronicles Oberst’s struggles with his depression-stricken ex. Not to enshroud the setting with too much emo, he picked up the tempo, dedicating the Monsters of Folk ditty “Map of the World” to fellow Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis, who was absent for the night. Oberst rocked out as his long locks whipped with every guitar strum. Not to leave fans wanting more, his encore included “Lua,” with Cox filling in for Gillian Welch, “Make War,” and the Felice Brothers crew on “Waste of Paint,” leaving no one disappointed as they exited the lush, grand venue. —Sharlene Chiu