The Eagles ever thought country rock would be after they ruined it.
I missed Nik Feitas, so I’ve got no opinion there. But arriving at the Ogden last night to see the stage filled with racks of guitars, pedal-steel guitar, two keyboards, a piano, a mandolin, a dobro, a trumpet and a French horn put a smile on my face.
To many people, Bright Eyes is Connor Oberst and some dudes. And there’s some truth in that. They’re his songs and his voice. But Bright Eyes the band took the stage last night with a competence and swagger that spoke of cohesion that comes from more than being mere studio backup to a rock star.
Still, it was Connor that many of these fans came to see, and the lulls between songs were often punctuated with girlish screams and confessions of love for the oh-so-dreamy front man. Pushing my way up front, I was astonished to see an old friend from my youthful days of seeing punk shows at this venue: The rib-bruising barricade. Does anyone know what the rubric is for erecting a barricade? Just the other night, Rilo Kiley played a 16-and-over show without the aid of the buffer. It must be a sexist thing: Paternalistic precautions to keep young ladies distanced from the object of their burgeoning sexual desires. My fiancée said it was probably to keep Connor away from the girls.
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I like the records. I only love two of them. But from note one, the band turned these songs into something different. The full country-rock sound of the quintet added a depth and sonic history to the tunes that would have made Gram Parsons smile smugly and Don Henley jealous that his band was never this good. Ever. Mike Mogis -- whose work as a producer at Saddle Creek has been brilliant – is a magician. He wailed on his Telecaster, his dobro, his pedal steel and his mandolin with equal grace, and quickly jumped several rungs in the ranks of the best musicians I’ve ever seen live.
They played for exactly an hour and headed off for a break before returning for exactly an hour and half more. They’ve got a set list down pat, but it still seems to have some organic flow. The second half of the show featured a rousing version of “True Blue,” a song Oberst said he wrote for his little cousin or nephew, which was aided and accented perfectly with some brilliant trumpet playing. But the second to last song was the real treat of the night. Oberst slid the acoustic from his back and picked up an electric. Mentioning they had only written the song a few days ago, Oberst apologized in advance if it turned out a little rough. And they proceeded to melt faces with an all-out rocker that probably left some audience members tempted to cry out “Judas!!!!” but was easily the most exciting piece of the evening. And then he brought it back down, opting for the close-out-the-show-with-a-swoon method of ending the evening by performing a lovely version of “Lua.” Once again, the trumpet playing made it, even though the screaming girls, the couple talking loudly behind me, and the “what feedback?” soundman tried their very hardest to ruin it for the rest of us.
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I can sit at home and feel sorry for myself to the somber tones of myriad singer-songwriters but, when I see an act like this live, I want hearing loss. Which Bright Eyes delivered. Random Detail: Mogis’ rack of effects pedals was bigger than my coffee table. By the Way: Fray front man Isaac Slade was in the audience, behind the soundboard, with a watchman’s cap brought low over his forehead to prevent autograph-request-inducing recognition.