Bright Eyes

Evidence that you are, indeed, a fucking star: When you piss over an entire state in a drunken onstage rant and, upon returning, you are greeted with shouts of "Texas loves you!"; when your hair is that greasy and girls (and boys) nevertheless want to stick their tongue in your ear; when you introduce a song by saying, "This is about, um, something," and critics still call you articulate. So here is the Great Conor Oberst--overrated, overexposed and, as it turns out, quite good. Sunday night's concert was nowhere near mind-blowing, but it sure was solid. Touring behind Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, Oberst kept his tongue in check (rather than cheek) and expanded the songs on the lesser of his half-brilliant two-CD collection so that they didn't sound quite so pointless. Show (and album) opener "Time Code" erupted into a gorgeous rendition of "Gold Mine Gutted," played by no less than 10 musicians. The set list came almost exclusively from Digital Urn (one exception was a powerfully embellished rendition of "Neely O'Hara," from the Every Day and Every Night EP), and all the bombast and feedback swirl was more compelling live than on the album. But it's still not what I want from Conor Oberst. To me, he's the weird, hot guy in AP English class who writes poetry and just returned from the mental ward: I want to see him bleeding with his words, not fiddling with a goddamn Moog. But the band never veered too far into white-noise wankery, and the clashing encore of "Lover I Don't Have to Love" (from 2002's Lifted, or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground ), with its deranged, throat-scraping shouts of "Make yourself FREEEE!," was a memorable flourish. Still, there was something curiously restrained about the whole affair: no mention of his now-notorious appearance at Ridglea and all the ensuing flimflam. Instead, Oberst seemed like a nervous kid meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. "Thanks for driving here tonight," he began. "I get the impression it's not too close to where you live." Later, he mumbled about freedom, and there was something about a Baptist church. An interesting show, yes--but more intoxicated than intoxicating.

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