Live Review: Conor Oberst – Carnegie Hall, NYC

On Thanksgiving eve, Conor Oberst graced the audience at Carnegie Hall in New York City with two intimate, solo sets of music. To open the night Oberst’s pal Simon Joyner, a fellow Omaha, Nebraska folkie, sang a few tender, and delicate tunes.

For the entire first set, Oberst performed even more stripped back and raw versions of the honest, organic songs on his new album Ruminations. The first song of the night was Tachycardia, and as he slammed on the grand piano, the gritty Oberst-croaks filled the Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. The song also featured some soulful harmonica playing. Next Oberst performed a stellar rendition of Gossamer Thin – another piano song from the new batch. Oberst finally picked up his guitar for Barbary Coast (Later), featuring a pure singer/songwriter vibe complete with harmonica attitude.

Counting Sheep followed – a softer one on the Oberst energy spectrum, which featured precise fingerpicking patterns and sharp dynamic control. After You All Loved Him Once, which had political relevance in the aftermath of the U.S. Presidential election, Oberst returned to the piano for Next of Kin and The Rain Follows the Plow.

Oberst returned to his acoustic guitar for A Little Uncanny, an aggressive folk/country tune packed with blaring harmonica and boisterous strumming. To close out the set Oberst played Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch), a song that creates a bonfire mood and Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out – a tribute to getting trashed with friends at a New York City bar until closing.

The second set was comprised solely of earlier music from Oberst’s catalog, including Bright Eyes songs and one Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band track. Kicking it off with Lenders In The Temple and Cape Canaveral, Oberst picked up where he left off with his solo music energy and attitude. After White Shoes (Mystic Valley Band) Oberst performed Passing Through by Leonard Cohen to recognize his recent passing. Somewhere in the middle of this set Oberst told the audience about his drunken election results viewing experience. “I suffered the most extreme stages of grief all at the same time. I was shitting, puking and crying. Yes. Crying because I’m a big pussy so I guess our new President is going to grab me.” The blue state New York City audience definitely received his political humor positively.

The end of the set engaged the audience more noticeably as Oberst pumped out a four-song Bright Eyes streak. Beginning the streak with the phenomenal Ladder Song, Oberst strummed right into Lua, The Big Picture and put a cap on the night with At The Bottom Of Everything. Conor Oberst remains one of the greatest songwriters to see live and it’s an extra special treat when he’s the only one on stage.

Scott J. Herman