Friday, June 26, 2009

Conor Oberst Does One For Michael

By Evan Rytlewski
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"Our entire set tonight is dedicated to the memory of Michael Jackson," Conor Oberst announced at the start of his Summerfest performance last night, and sure enough, he periodically evoked the fallen pop singer throughout the evening, albeit imprudently. It's doubtful, for instance, Jackson would have found much solace in the atheist rally cry "Nikorette," and Jackson's grieving family almost certainly would have found Oberst's dedication before set closer "I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)" in poor taste.

Oberst was in an unusually garrulous mood in general, rife with fidgety banter. Among the more memorable Oberst-isms of the night:

* "This next song is kind of a slut. This next song's a slut."
* "Anybody got any plans for a road trip this summer? Anybody have any plans like that?"
* "Enjoy America before it's gone. Soon it will all be Applebee's."
* And, astutely commenting on Summerfest, "We noticed there were a lot of cover songs played on this stage today..."

Outisde of Oberst's cheerful disposition, his set contained few surprises, with Oberst sticking mostly to the country-rock stompers of his past two albums. He imbued them with his usual extra kick of piss and vinegar, though, dirtying up the guitars and returning the bark to his voice, while as usual his Mystic Valley Band proved themselves some of the best live support Oberst has ever assembled, capable of milking new melodies out of even the most stock roots structures. I'd still prefer to see Oberst challenge himself with something more ambitious than bar-band rock, but I've got to hand it to the guy: Even when drawing from his less combustible songbook, he spits fire. 

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