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Monday, April 4, 2011

Bright Eyes w/ Titus Andronicus @ The Riverside Theater

April 3, 2011

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After several years dedicated mostly to solo efforts, singer-songwriter Conor Oberst returned to his formative Bright Eyes project this year with a new album, The People's Key, which he has suggested may be the band's last. Oberst hasn't committed to a hard timetable for retiring the band he began as a teenager, but if the band's current tour does prove to be Bright Eyes' last, fans couldn't have asked for much more closure than Sunday's sold-out concert at the Riverside Theater. The 24-song, two-hour-plus set touched on most corners of sprawling catalogue Bright Eyes has built up over 16 years.

Oberst's output with Bright Eyes isn't defined by any one sound. His style has changed from album to album, often reflecting greater indie-rock trends—sometimes disparate ones, as in 2005 when he became the only musician simultaneously to go country and to release a glitch-pop record—but the thread that ties them together is their restlessness. On song after song, Oberst sings of wanting to be somewhere and somebody else, continually trying out new lifestyles and philosophies that never fit quite right. The resulting songbook runs an often contradictory cycle of atheism and spirituality, drugs and sobriety, activism and disenfranchisement, and romance and frigidity.

It's understandable, then, why a 31-year-old would see the need to end a project that has so long served as a diary of his anxious youth, but to judge from Sunday's set list, Oberst does so with great reluctance. He prefaced "Nothing Gets Crossed Out," a nostalgia-minded selection from 2002's Lifted, with a fitting anecdote about being nostalgic for the era when he wrote that song, and he sang wistfully of memories lost to time on "An Attempt to Tip the Scale," from 2000's Fevers and Mirrors. On the chorus of "Beginner's Mind," a new track from The People's Key, he pleads to his inner child, "stay a while." In Oberst's songs, the past always holds more allure than the future.

The encore's closing number, "One For Me, One For You," ended in a memorable display of affection. To the chagrin of a wildly outmatched bouncer, dozens of fans climbed the stage to hug Oberst. Those who couldn't get close enough bopped around and mugged for the audience, looking like extras in an Urban Outfitters update of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Perhaps the ultimate culmination of Oberst's tendency to pick tourmates that sound a good deal like himself, openers Titus Andronicus created a spectacle of their own when writhing singer Patrick Stickles climbed a speaker to leap into—then perform from—the theater's box seats. It was the highlight of the New Jersey band's winningly punky, jubilant set.

Photo by CJ Foeckler

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