Bright Eyes Sound Academy, Toronto ON March 13
Published Mar 14, 2011Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst doesn't often sweat the small stuff. Obsessed with grand themes -- often writ in broad strokes but peppered with incisive lyrics -- the songwriter has a knack for telling juxtaposition. On his purportedly final Bright Eyes tour, he has channelled that talent into a nuanced and largely exhilarating experience.
Like Arcade Fire's Neon Bible show, this current Bright Eyes incarnation goes big in order to suit its frequently profound subject matter. Bookended by sampled musings on love, religion and aliens, while being backed by a spastic light screen and flanked with a tight backing band, the production value runs high.
Detail oriented, Oberst and partner Mike Mogis like to toy with constituent parts, at turns setting words against and then in collusion with music. Thus, "Haile Selassie" anchored weighty themes with a joyful, seesawing guitar and "Four Winds" treated god and grace to countrified acoustic strums and plenty of levity. Conversely, the appropriately girth-y "Shell Games" lightheartedly strewed 1980s synths through a winkingly self-aware track. What Oberst's voice lacked in sheen, it made up for in apposite urgency, notably on throwback "Padraic My Prince."
Of course, Oberst's voice is an asset in a Dylan-esque way. Holding disparate sounds together, it lets him conjoin his myriad proclivities. A rodeo sing-along on "Cartoon Blues," a tender take on "An Attempt to Tip the Scales" and a Spanish guitar on "We Are Nowhere and It's Now" shouldn't flow so cleanly, but they did. Sporadic sound glitches -- especially a heavy-handed low-end -- marred but didn't sink the proceedings, and Oberst's genialness kept the mood light.
For all of its grandeur -- particularly on the enlivening "Road to Joy" and the danceable "The Calendar Hung Itself…" -- the gig's finest moment was a quiet one, with just Oberst and his trumpeter delivering an absolutely shattering rendition of "Lua." Complex but not self-serving and long yet not over indulgent, it was a big and frequently beautiful evening.