The Mark of Excellence

Conor Oberst / Cold Specks

Massey Hall, Toronto, ON, December 8

> > Dec 09 2012

Conor Oberst / Cold Specks - Massey Hall, Toronto, ON, December 8
Photo: Sarah Murphy
By Sarah MurphyAcknowledging her appreciation for Conor Oberst by saying that she used to listen to him all the time in high school, Cold Specks' Al Spx flanked her set with opening and closing a cappella numbers. In between, she remained solo onstage with just an electric guitar, running through cuts from this year's I Predict a Graceful Expulsion. Highlights included "Blank Maps" and "Elephant Head," though Spx shone through the entire opening slot. Her powerful soul vocals carried each song, so it was fitting that when she closed with "Old Stepstone," she abandoned the guitar and microphone, showing the audience how strong her voice really is.

Unsurprisingly for a guy that's been meddling in music since the early 90s, Conor Oberst has racked up a hefty back catalogue between his solo albums, work with Bright Eyes and numerous other side-projects. For the show at Massey Hall, he drew most heavily from 2002's Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground and new yet-to-be-released material. Picking up a guitar and taking the seat that he would remain in for most of the night, he kicked the set off with Lifted's "The Big Picture" and followed it immediately with Bright Eyes' beloved, if a little sappy, "First Day of My Life."

Oberst shared new tune "Common Knowledge," but sent nostalgia levels through the roof when he went into Fevers and Mirrors' "Arienette" next. "Lenders in the Temple" stood out amongst a block of solo material, and even "Ladder Song" from Bright Eyes' arguably disappointing latest record, The People's Key, sounded great with Oberst switching over to the piano for the tune. Things really picked up, though, with a raucously charged rendition of "At the Bottom of Everything," which had the entire room stomping along from their seats.

The rest of the set was filled out with new tracks like "You Are Your Mother's Child" — which was dedicated to a friend in the crowd, as Oberst joked that after a couple successful lawsuits he didn't have any kids of his own — "Kick" and "Breezy," though Lifted's "Laura Laurent" made a much-welcome appearance too.

Coming back out for an encore after a thunderous response from fans, Oberst delivered another Fevers and Mirrors cut with "An Attempt to Tip the Scales." After a short pause to clean up his spilled Coca-Cola (he didn't want to get the "sacred" stage sticky, or his "$1,600 shoes"), he played "Lua" and dedicated it to New York City.

Oberst took a number of fairly annoying screams in stride throughout the night, cracking jokes and showing off a sense of humour that doesn't usually find a place in his music.

The nostalgia-ridden set ended with a phenomenal rendition of "Waste of Paint," stretching Oberst's voice and acoustic guitar to their limit. Evidently pouring all of his remaining energy into the final song, Oberst may have been exhausted by that point, but left everyone on a high note.
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