Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

How nerve-wracking to write words describing the person who has constructed the most beautiful, comforting songs from my worn photo-album pages, my stomach pangs, and my tear-stained pillow.

Each time I see Conor Oberst {you know, Bright Eyes} perform, I sink into a state of euphoric-fixation followed by a sense of rapturous rebirth… a renewed appreciation for what I have, for what I don't have, for my friends, and for music's capacity to affect me so.

Bright Eyes. Photo by Ryan Schierling.igLiz has been an epic Bright Eyes fan for years, and even made me a "get to know Conor" CD when we first met. I was out of the country for his last go-around in Seattle, so I had very much been looking forward to this show — not just because I like his music, but because I anticipate that in 40 years, Conor will have released over 50 albums, and will be revered like Tom Waits or Bob Dylan are, or like Nick Drake would have been.

Being the super-fan she is, Liz arrived to the Showbox before the doors opened — at 5:30pm. By the time I arrived three hours later, Liz and Ryan were nowhere to be found among the throbs of Oberst-disciples. I looked, I searched, I gave up and finally reached Liz by mobile (not hers, of course — she was already too far sunk into her Conor-daze to handle mundane tasks like answering the phone. I had to call Ryan and ask him to hand the phone to Liz). That's how I located them — front and center, smashed up against the stage, steadfast. I considered trying to bribe her to hang out with me with free drinks, but knew it would be an exercise in futility. She was resolute. We hung up just before Arab Strap opened the show, and I headed to the back for a seat, disappointed to miss Liz in full-on super-fan mode, but still eagerly anticipating a great show.

Bright Eyes. Photo by Ryan Schierling. At the past couple of Bright Eyes shows I've seen {of the 11 total, if you include Desaparecidos}, I've opted to hang back to get the fullness of the sound, and take in the audience reaction as much as Conor's performance. But this time, I wanted to join the throngs like in the early Bright Eyes days, and my two back-to-basics cohorts and I reaped the sweaty, glorious benefits of proximity.

This time Bright Eyes was made up of Conor and five friends (less than half the cast as his October 2002 visit to the Showbox) and together they presented the sold-out show crowd with a set of songs from the back-back-catalog to brand-new-unnamed-yet-ready-for-7"-current-event-themed-masterpieces.

Did I hear 15 audience members faint when he announced he was going to play "Solid Jackson," from his A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 album which was recorded when he was 15 at the end of the encore? Perhaps that was just the sound of my head hitting the floor. Falling to the floor with shock/elatation/excitement isn't wise… but I got used to it, what with the evening's shockingly great renditions of, "You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will", "A Perfect Sonnet", "Bowl of Oranges", "A Song to Pass the Time", "Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh," and a few new and all kinds of amazing unreleased songs {"Trigger Under Water", "The Chief Gave the World Away", and "Ode to Joy"}.

Bright Eyes. Photo by Ryan Schierling.I was stunned by the magnitude of his live presence. Before the show, I had some trepidations, fearing Conor might come off as whiny or folksy, but my fears were allayed the moment this handsome boy-man took the stage. He was electric. While he warranted my earlier comparison to Mr. Waits, I more strongly felt a connection between him and a young Robert Smith; from the confident yet humble way he held himself and his guitar, to his painfully earnest, warbling vocals, to the darkly floppy tuft of his hair, I halfway expected him to belt out, "I would say I'm sorry if I thought that it would change your mind," at the start of each song. But Bright Eyes Don't Cry.

Instead, he played "The Calendar Hung Itself" as the second song of the night, which I loved. I love it when he modifies a song that we already know and divinely morphs it into somthing else… like what he did with "Sunrise, Sunset" on the Fevers & Mirrors album… and at the show with "Ode to Joy".

He is such an amazing musician. I feel like I was watching the next Robert Smith unfold before my eyes.

Bright Eyes. Photo by Ryan Schierling.Yea, I am constantly astounded at the emotive mastery of Conor's lyrics and the gently genius songwriting skills he has developed. And don't even get me started on the volume and breadth of amazing recordings he has amassed before his 25th birthday.

As a performer… I feel like he has found that admirable square inch between the nervously uncomfortable blackheart and polished detached showman. He makes sense of my murky inner thoughts and fears and hopes… and does it with respectable authenticity.

And the thing I love most about him? He'll have a new 7" or split ep out by June or at least will be back in town again {or I'll overlap a vacation spot with someplace he is playing} by Summer's end.

Oh c'mon…. that's not what you love most


Ok… that is probably #17 or #18… right after the way he sings "I’m standing on a bridge" in the song "Something Vague," and before writing the drum machine part on "I Will Be Grateful For This Day. I Will Be Grateful For Each Day To Come".