Live Review: Conor Oberst – Manchester Cathedral

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Those few of us who weren’t witnessing the absolute destruction of Brazilian football as we know it; still had a damn good excuse last night, having ventured on down to the absolutely stunning Manchester Cathedral, to witness an exceptional performance from Conor Oberst.

The hallowed surroundings were an ideal setting for Oberst and his enormous following – made up of eager, long-time worshippers, and new, youthful believers who have connected to his latest work, Upside Down Mountain. And, as he and support act-turned backing band Dawes took to the alter, the sunlight cascaded through the stained glass windows and onto the stage, lighting up their figures in an somewhat angelic way…some of the more fanatical followers might say!

Oberst chose a setlist covering a vast range of his glorious work, taking his pickings from Bright Eyes’ Cassadaga, Lifted,  Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, The People’s Key and most joyously 2005’s I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning; as well as Outer South – recorded with The Mystic Valley Band – and his 2008 self-titled solo effort.

His new tracks were also well-received, and could be praised as some of his best work in recent years. Kick-starting with album opener Time Forgot before heading into Zig-Zagging Towards the Light, it was clear that Oberst, too, was in fine form, particularly for a guy who seems to have been around for decades, yet is only at the buoyant age of 34.

A word of praise also has to be given to Dawes, who delivered a rip-roaring effort as Oberst’s backing band, and shook the Cathedral’s rafters with their musical talent. The only setback unfortunately being the slight boxiness of the whole thing, with speakers placed behind pillars and drapes which wasn’t all the helpful for those of us outside the main corridor. Yet not one complaint could be heard even from those craning their neck to see round the old-age stonework, as we were instead treated to a glorious show that saw the stage lights dance and bend around the exquisite architecture, lighting up beautiful areas that would usually lie in dark shadows.

Despite a justly-deserved gleeful reception for each of Oberst’s new tracks; inevitably, it was the throwbacks to his back catalogue that received the greatest rounds of applause, and in some cases, the odd tear from his dearest faithful. 2002’s Bowl Of Oranges was surely a fine addition to the set, along with a fantastic set-closer in the form of Another Travellin’ Song. Yet it was the stunning Lua that stole the crowd’s hearts, prompting a whispered singalong to arguably I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning‘s finest offering.

An emotional, driven and accomplished set, this was Conor Oberst back to his best. One would expect his long list of worshippers to only grow stronger and more faithful, after that heavenly performance.

Dom Kay