[Live Review] CONOR OBERST (Sydney)

Conor Oberst Resized-30

Sydney Opera House
Monday February 27, 2017 :

After releasing Ruminations, an album of demos that was written and recorded in a few days, Conor Oberst set to visit Australia for a one off show at Sydney’s iconic Opera House. One off shows are becoming quite a trend lately and I was expecting a truly intimate performance inside the walls of Concert Hall on a rainy Monday night, which was coincidentally the end of summer in Australia.

Making my way to the venue I felt extremely lethargic but ready to experience such a rare event and hoping to hear more older songs as I haven’t quite warmed up to Ruminations yet.

Concert Hall finally filled out as everyone took their seats, it wasn’t a sold out show which made the atmosphere both inviting and comforting. Fashionably late three figures appeared on stage : Conor Oberst, Miwi La Lupa (who also played a few songs as a support act) and a mystery man, who passed Conor his harmonica once seated at the piano. The opening song was ‘Tachycardia’, a single off Ruminations which was making the rounds online promoting this show. Followed by ‘Gossamer Thin’ off the same record, I did not notice people singing along but the response to new songs seemed great!

Switching to guitar for ‘Barbary Coast (Later)’, Oberst kept his eyes closed singing “I don’t wanna feel stuck baby, I just wanna get drunk before noon…” his hair messy and wearing flannel topped with a leather jacket as if it was as cool as fall in his native Omaha, Nebraska. If you are a Bright Eyes fan, you know that this man is not a rock star, Conor Oberst is a poet with a darkness inside and sitting there in the darkness of possibly haunted Opera House right opposite to him, pouring his soul-searching tunes, kind of feels like he’s sucking you into the bottom of everything.

As he moved onto playing ‘Cape Canaveral’ off his self titled 2008 record, the crowd cheered, sang along and nodded in tune. Oberst followed with ‘Ten Women’ – off Outer South a collaborative album with The Mystic Valley Band. A melancholic tune about heroes and worship, ‘You All Loved Him Once’, which appears second last on the latest album, was actually a perfectly suited song for the venue.

Once the clapping and cheering stopped, Oberst stated, “This is a cover song, one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar when i was fucking 12 or something. My brother Matty taught me how to play it, this one goes out to him.” A sad tribute to his late brother really pulled on my heart strings in conjunction with ‘Here Comes a Regular’ (The Replacements cover). Followed by another new song, ‘A Little Uncanny’.

This next song is about the things we have in common, because everyone seems to be focusing on differences. It’s the rise of Fundamentalism and Sexism and Racism, and they are winning. And my country is much to blame, but I think it’s a worldwide issue. But the things we have in common are these muscles that are ticking away in our chests and some day they are going to stop and we are going to die. And it’s about that even bad people want to be loved, but this song is also about outer space.” Starting to play’ Ladder Song’ off 2011 record People’s Key – singing: “You’re not alone in anything. You’re not unique in dying.

Still sitting at the piano, Oberst blurted “This is a song about a bar in New York city and played probably the most Bright Eyes sounding song off the new album”. It was ‘Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out’.

After taking a 10 minute intermission, the men took back the stage and proceeded wowing the emotional crowd with an oldie, ‘Landers In The Temple’. “This is an adult lullaby, not recommended for children,” Conor said and played ‘Counting Sheep’. ‘Mama Northwick’ is my favourite song off the new record, which was next on the set list. It is about an architect and mentions “the house of falling waters” by Frank Lloyd Wright. He played ‘Lua’ – the song that took me through my teen years and to this day remains forever quotable. People cheered and whistled and thanked Oberst for adding this classic to the set list.

Sitting back at the piano, Oberst stated : “This is a new song. It doesn’t have a name or anything, we didn’t really practise it. It’s a couple of days old, but anyway, whatever. Got a little sense of adventure to it.” The song sounded like an classic Bright Eyes song to me, including such lyrics as: “No one ever changes and that’s the truth. And I’m never gonna do what you want me to” – the response to this song was overwhelming. He played ‘Next of Kin’, ‘White Shoes’ (which he dedicated to Australian girls), followed by ‘The Big Picture’, a very early Bright Eyes song off Lifted or the Story Is In the Soil, Keep Your Ear to The Ground (2002). And finishing the show with ‘At the Bottom of Everything’ which was a perfect ending to an intimate show like this. He bowed, he held hands with his stage companions and he waved, they got standing ovation. Until next time.

I didn’t have very high expectations of this show, I didn’t know Ruminations songs as well as earlier songs, even though the lyrics are as poetic as they have ever been. Conor has had an extremely hard few years and it really shows in his new songs. The grimness of the album and the experiences described probably won’t pick up hundreds of new fans for him, but the old trusted fans will stay and hold his metaphorical hand through everything life throws at him and he will blow us away every time he plays a show, be that solo or with a full band.

Set List:
1. Tachycardia
2. Gossamer Thin
3. Barbary Coast (Later)
4. Cape Canaveral
5. Ten Women
6. You All Loved Him Once
7. Here Comes a Regular (The Replacements cover)
8. A Little Uncanny
9. Ladder Song
10. Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out
11. ——intermission——
12. Landers In The Temple
13. Counting Sheep
14. Mama Borthwick
15. Lua
16. —— new song
17. Next Of Kin
18. White Shoes
19. The Big Picture
20. ?
21. At The Bottom Of Everything

Reviewer and Photographer : Annette Geneva