Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band @ Palace, Melbourne (02/10/08)

Better know under his angst ridden moniker –  “Bright Eyes’ the diminutive Conor Oberst was here to promote his self titled new album recorded with the Mystic Valley Band, the line up of which not being too far removed from the last incarnation of Bright Eyes. The notoriously troubled troubadour took to stage clad in full denim, which seemed the correct attire for the folk-country blues tunes of the new LP. An album that sees him mature as a lyricist and performer, thanks in no small part to surrounding himself by a great rootsy all-American backing band, most notably the addition of the brilliant organ work of longtime Bright Eyes collaborator Nate Walcott.

They tore up the stage straight away with a thunderous, uplifting, four guitar strong, Moab (There’s Nothing the Road Cannot Heel) this serving as an immediate reminder that you are not here to witness a Bright Eyes gig. Conor seemed happy to have this band of brothers surrounding him as they launched straight into Sausalito a good old fashioned bluegrass track which had more than a nod towards the late greats –  “Gram Parsons’ or Jerry Garcia circa American Beauty era. This was followed by Get Well Cards and backed up by Central City sung by the talented lead guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth.

After punching out these first four songs Conor briefly welcomed the audience before launching into a few more songs including Danny Callahan, then a song sung in part by the drummer Jason Boesel – which actually wasn’t immediately apparent as Conor mimed the first few minutes crouched at front of stage to the eager front row. This was followed by a new songs written just a few weeks ago 10 Women that he clearly enjoyed playing interjected with a few small impromptu line dancing moves, something surely you wouldn’t get to see at a Bright Eyes concert. This being testament to how relaxed Oberst is feeling on this tour.

He continued with Cape Canaveral the lead on the new album that really demonstrated his lyrical prowess, with beautifully penned lines like “I’ve seen stars getting smaller, like diamonds in my memory.” This was followed by the poetic and quite Dylanesque I Gotta Reason #2, which came alive with the talents of Walcott on the haunting organ keys. The audience were again amped up a notch with a couple of songs including the short roaring anthem NYC Gone Gone before the band took off leaving Conor to take centre stage under spotlight for an extended heart felt rendition of the acoustic Milk Thistle and Lenders in the Temple – both tracks most akin to the fragile introspective sounds of Bright Eyes.

After the short hiatus the band reassemble and Conor introduces each member, they dive into Sundown penned by the guitarist Nik Frietas. This is followed a worthy cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Kodachrome. The band finishes with two completely contrasting songs, the uplifting and energetic I Don’t Want to Die (in the Hospital) a stand out song of their recent album, and the beautiful and poignant Breezy which Oberst wrote for Sabrina Duim, a harpist who played with Bright Eyes and died tragically young early last year.