A fitting valediction

In a set of shows that are purported to be Conor Oberst’s last as Bright Eyes (a moniker that has served him well over the past 16 years), playing the Royal Albert Hall must have been a particularly shiny jewel in the heavy hanging crown of a farewell tour. To say that expectations were high for the thousands of fans who had paid top end prices for one last chance to see the band that have brought them equal measures of angst and solace during their mutual courtship would be an understatement; luckily, Conor et al. did not disappoint.

Inaugurating the show with the same warped, apocalypse-fearing voice that permeates the band’s latest album ‘The People’s Key’, Oberst is greeted with a rapturous applause as he picks at the slow, threatening blues of ‘Firewall’. It swells into a gloriously cacophonic crescendo as the rest of the band, including the other half of the Bright Eyes songwriting partnership Mike Mogis, find their place on stage.

A good proportion of the set consists of songs from ‘The People’s Key’, which made for a more uplifting atmosphere than previous Bright Eyes performances – the album contains a playful, more hope-laden streak bereft of the band’s previous releases. In particular, the album’s lead single ‘Shell Games’ sounds as if Oberst is channeling The Killers in all of its synth-soaked glory. Its wry, arcane lyrics that are soaked in self-deprecation elevate it into echelons of songwriting that Brandon Flowers could only dream of. Clearly Oberst’s trademark tortured lyrics are mellowing with his growing maturity, and for the hard core of Bright Eyes fans who use his music as a form of self-medication, Oberst is now allowing them to use his art to celebrate the good times, as well as survive the bad.

What really comes across when watching him on the Royal Albert Hall’s illustrious, well-trodden stage is how much Oberst has grown as a performer over his career as the Bright Eyes front man. Working the room like a rock and roll preacher, it’s a relief to see that the stage fright that often dogged his earlier career is now very much a thing of the past. Engaging the audience in the encore with the heavenly ballad ‘Land Locked Blues’, he jokes with the crowd by altering the lyrics to, “Well the world’s got me dizzy again/You’d think after I’d grown so old, I’d be used to the spin”, in place of the original line that betrayed his age at the time of writing it at as a 22-year-old.

The performance, on a whole, hints at a worldly wisdom that Conor has achieved over a short lifetime in music. And if this was to be his final outing as Bright Eyes, he couldn’t have wished for a more fitting valediction.

Words by David Harfield
Photo by Dan Griffiths

View an accompanying photo gallery from Bright Eyes' gig at the Royal Albert Hall on ClashMusic.com HERE.

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