Monday, 19 March 2007

Bright Eyes & Jake Bellows (Neva Dinova) live, Oxford Brookes, 18 March

Conor Oberst can't talk to crowds. The man's just been on tour with Springsteen and REM. Now he's starting off on a world tour for 'Cassadega', aiming consolidate his position as a generational voice of emotional discord and political dissent. He's got an audience desperate to embrace his broad-appeal, folky emo-pop, from skinny-jean peroxide teens to middle-aged folkies. He's assembled a permanent Bright Eyes line-up whose hard-playing multi-instrumental cosmic americana takes Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue as its inspiration. In support, he has Neva Dinova frontman Jakes Bellows, who wins the crowd over with his amiable banter and budget Neil Young-isms, even though his backing band, sundry Bright Eyes members, have never played these songs before. In spite of all this, Oberst can still kill the mood stone dead with a few words. "Thank you ... it's been, erm, a nice time ... for us."

The gig's perfectly decent - the most consistent I've ever seen them, though certainly not the best. It takes in a variety of Bright Eyes material - 'June on the West Coast' from 'Letting off the Happiness', 'Laura Laurent' from 'Lifted', 'We Are Nowhere...' from 'Wide Awake', alongside plenty of 'Four Winds' and 'Cassadega'. But it all sounds the same - same intensity, same volume, same tempo, same instrumentation. This would work if Oberst could carry off the populist appeal of Sprinsteen or REM, or even if he'd done a Chris Martin and taken lessons in singing and self-deprecating humour (no Coldplay, btw).
But he's still the prickly, confrontational frontman who can't really sing. Previously, this sense of danger at least livened things up - winsome folk-pop one minute, impassioned ranting the next, pop to the bar and before you're back he's decking the drummer (well, not tonight - she's a girl). Without danger, intensity or musical variety, you've got a talented countrified bar-band aiming for the middle of the road, undercut by sameness and an unlikeable frontman.

The Rolling Thunder approach works on record, where deft production can handle the fussy lyrics and overloaded instrumentation. 'Cassadega' will sell, and I'll be buying. But as a live act, however poor his new record is, I'd take one Willy Mason over ten Bright Eyes.

More fun:

Bright Eyes - 'Everything Must Belong Somewhere' (live, Washington, 2005)

Buy Bright Eyes
Buy Neva Dinova

Saddle Creek homepage

Coming up on GMS:

John Cale live!

1 comment:

Daniel said...

always love to hear what bellow is up to. great review.