Bright Eyes, Live In Concert: SXSW 2011
When he first emerged as a prodigiously gifted folk-rock singer, another unwillingly anointed New Dylan barely out of his teens, Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst didn't seem like the stuff of arena-rock spectaculars. All bound-up angst and wiry tension, Oberst was a guy with all the ideas and opinions in the world, but still unformed in terms of star power.
That has changed. With the aid of evocative video projections and a crack band — including keyboardist Laura Burhenn of Georgie James and The Mynabirds — he now presides over an epic rock show that spans a diverse discography. A career artist at 31, Oberst displays confident showmanship that's serious, even strident at times; naturally, he's not one to let the day's bombing of military targets in Libya go by without a few choice words to open "Old Soul Song" and the raging "Road to Joy."
This year's The People's Key finds Oberst looking outside himself for far-reaching ruminations on humanity's place in the world, and that broad, searching quality makes the record a nice fit for the neighborhood-filling sound here. But the more obtuse explorations on The People's Key aren't sacrificed for the sake of expediency: Denny Brewer's album-opening theories about UFOs and life on earth open and close Bright Eyes' concert at SXSW's Auditorium Shores in Austin, Texas. Art and bombast fit well together in Oberst's world, and this show is no different.
As such, this is no mere SXSW showcase, most of which run 35 to 40 minutes, tops, and attract a roughly equal mix of hardcore fans and casual onlookers. Here, Bright Eyes gets two hours to spread out and sprawl, and to close its set amidst over-the-top fanfare — complete with a fireworks display blooming over the river behind the Auditorium Shores stage. It's a spectacle befitting a rock 'n' roll powerhouse in its prime.
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