Photo by Matt OttoBRIGHT EYES/THE FAINT
GROVE THEATER, ANAHEIM
SUNDAY, JUNE 12
You know it's gonna be a bum show when the headlining artiste announces ahead of time that he'll do songs from just one of his two new same-day-released albums, and said album is the less interesting of the pair. So Conor Oberst, the Pride of Omaha (we'll skip the Bright Eyes pretensions), pretty much ignored the catcalls from ungrateful fans who clamored to hear something off the superior, quieter I'mWideAwake,It'sMorninginstead of the electroclash DigitalAshinaDigitalUrn.
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The Faint preceded Oberst and mostly blew him away with new wave circa 1983; warmed over, but good stuff as dance music goes. We had issues with the two-person string section they brought in on occasion: amidst all the clanging of the Faint's incessant boompa-boompa, their instruments were mostly drowned out. There was also entirely too much visual clutter—four screens flashing mundane images that looked like moody castoffs from some A/V club president's tryout reel. The Faint basically made disco music for straight boys, with just enough snotty electric guitars mixed in to make it palatable (one song sounded like a blatant rip-off of "Personal Jesus"). Still—not horrible!
Oberst, the hero of Faux-Hawk Nation, emerged after the break, and after his backing musicians—most of whom were the Faint—had already set up. Things went bad fast. A swarm of obnoxious Vari-Lites drowned the stage in so much swirling (okay, some would say nauseating) color, you'd have thought that Oberst thinks he's Genesis. He does do the sensitive-guy thing well; he seemed almost timid onstage, even fearful, practically deep-throating his mic when he wasn't trying to brush the hair out of his eyes every 17 seconds. But that vulnerability comes across better when he's solo or at least more stripped-down: when you've got nine people behind you, you've gotta keep 'em busy, and Oberst occupied them with stomping the heart out of his tunes.
Digitalis an average but sometimes annoying album; this show went down ploddingly, as if Bruce Springsteen built an entire show devoted to HumanTouchcuts, or if Pink Floyd performed only the first half of TheWall.So no "Lua" or anything nearly as good from WideAwake,but some girls didn't care—all they wanted was for Conor to know they were alive, hoping maybe he'd go home with them so they could keep and clothe and feed him forever. They erupted in call-and-response: "I love you Conoooor!" screamed one lass; "I love you more, Conooooor!" another yelled back.
Oberst is hardly the "next generation's Dylan," hardly "crucial" or "essential" or "urgent," or whatever Robert Hilburn is calling him this week—judging by this gig, anyway. No, seeing Oberst only made us think of Coachella, which made us wish we were seeing the Arcade Fire instead. But next time Oberst unplugs, we're there.