There’s something quite different about Bright Eyes these days. There’s a sense of undying self confidence that perpetuates itself unwaveringly across to the audience – in a manner that the band has never quite managed to achieve. Where previously Conor Oberst’s sullen gaze gave off a stench of self examination now we are given an insight into a craftsman who may well be hitting the peak of his powers – particularly up close and ‘in the flesh’.
Starting proceedings with ‘Old Soul Song’, which culminates in a raucous of sound as Oberst sings of going ‘wild’ – the changes in the band’s make up come to light. Beginning with a string of tracks from the more folk laden side of the back catalogue – including the likes of ‘Four Winds’ and ‘Bowl of Oranges’ – the band seems full of energy as Oberst yelps, spins and bounces around the stage. It would be easy to assume you are watching a hard rock band judging by the gesticulations of those on stage.
With the final notes of the haunting ‘Lover I Don’t Have To Love’ comes the more experimental side of the Bright Eyes moniker. The greater focus on tracks from ‘Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’ and the new record ‘The People’s Key’ places the band in a territory that threatens to turn Oberst into a fully fledged rock frontman. He lives every line, in between the slightly odd dance moves and hand motions, and with such a strong band behind him it’s difficult to see how he couldn’t. For while hearing the likes of ‘Landlocked Blues’ and ‘First Day of my Life’ – with merely a voice, a guitar and a captivated audience is inspiring in itself – it is the band as a whole that makes the experience what it is. Two drummers give the likes of ‘Take it Easy (Love Nothing)’ and ‘Arc of Time’ an irresistibly infectious beat while Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott produce the goods as only they know how. It is the overall package that wins out here – where previously it may have solely been about Conor Oberst.
It’s difficult to know just where Bright Eyes will go from here. The obvious two fingers that the band gave to their previously folk inspired sound with the release of ‘The People’s Key’ was met with a cover of Gillian Welch’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ in a manner that shows that the band are not quite ready to set themselves free of the Americana brand. However why should they? When you can blend the acoustic sensitivity of ‘Poison Oak’ with the adolescent wailings of ‘Falling Out of Love at this Volume’ on top of the crashing symbols of ‘Jejune Stars’ the need for categorisation is merely pointless and derogatory. It seems Bright Eyes are not yet ready to call it quits and with performances like this we must be grateful that this is the case.