with Arab Strap and Jesse Harris
Cabaret Music Hall, Montreal, Quebec May 4, 2003
by Margie Libling
There's something vulnerable and sexy about a man displaying his emotions in such a raw fashion as Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst did when he played at the Cabaret Music Hall in Montreal on May 4th. It was my first time seeing Bright Eyes live and, to be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I had heard stories of Oberst playing shows while completely drunk, spitting on the audience, and getting just a tad too friendly with his female fans. On the other side of the scale, Oberst has also been hailed as a prodigy who started recording at the age of 13 (he is now 23 years old) and helped start Saddle Creek Records at the age of 15. What I never expected, however, was to be completely and utterly blown away by Bright Eyes. Oberst has been coined the "new Bob Dylan," the voice of our generation, a genius, and now I understand why.
For two straight hours Oberst, backed by a full band, took the stage playing song after song of love, depression, death, and life in general. These topics have all been covered countless times by countless musicians, but never in such a passionate and beautifully painful way as Oberst. His lyrics are not just words stuck together to make a song -- they are pure poetry.
After opening acts Jesse Harris and Arab Strap, Bright Eyes took the stage, beginning with "Walk Away," an older, rarer track. From the very first note, the audience was put on an emotional rollercoaster guided by Oberst's own ups and downs. With the lyrics "I'm leaving, but I don't know where to / No, I'm leaving, but I don't know where to" still ringing in the crowd's ears, Oberst went right into the next song. Playing such sonically pleasing numbers as "If Winter Ends," "You Will. You? Will. You? Will.", "A Perfect Sonnet" (much to the pleasure of a certain very loud audience member who let everyone know that this was the song he wanted to hear), "A Song to Pass the Time," and "Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh." Most memorable were "Bowl of Oranges," Bright' Eyes' latest single for which there is a video up at MTV.com, haunting versions of "Arienette" and "The Calendar Hung Itself," and a final solo encore of "I Don't Know When but a Day is Going to Come" off the album Lifted, Or the Story is in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground . Except to applaud loudly after each song, the audience remained silent throughout Bright Eyes' entire set -- a sign that they were truly captivated by the music.
With his small stature and floppy hair, Conor Oberst looks nothing like a rockstar, but he definitely knows how to act like one. With a bottle of wine in tow, Oberst got progressively drunker as the show went on. He had a water fight with his bassist, repeatedly hit his hand against his guitar causing a weird kind of feedback. His slurred speech told the crowd stories about drinking, drugs, and sneaking band members past the Canadian border crossing. Bright Eyes took several long breaks in between songs to talk and joke amongst themselves, completely ignoring the fact that a sold-out crowd was watching their every move. Yet through it all, Oberst somehow came across as shy, self-conscious, and insecure. Despite his rockstar-isms, Oberst was approachable and identifiable as a performer. He presented himself as down-to-earth and honest, but still fully able to enjoy his success and freedom for all they are worth.
Conor Oberst gives fans exactly what they want, but like a true business man, he leaves them craving more. Bright Eyes' songs have been stuck in my head ever since the show, his albums are the only ones I can listen to, and his lyrics are the only ones running through my head. I was a fan of Bright Eyes before, but now I can safely say I am indeed addicted to Bright Eyes and have more than just a little crush on Conor Oberst. After seeing Bright Eyes live, I can guarantee that you will feel the same enthusiasm.
Bright Eyes may have put on an incredible performance, but unfortunately opening acts Arab Strap and Jesse Harris weren't up to par.
Jesse Harris, better known as the man behind Norah Jones, opened the show telling the audience that it was his last night with the tour. Backed only by a bassist who giggled incessantly, Harris played a surprisingly enjoyable and relaxed set. His voice is a mix between John Mayer and David Gray. His music is simple but supported by thoughtful lyrics. Jesse Harris' album will be released in the upcoming weeks and I look forward to hearing it. Harris' only downfall is his lack of personality as a frontman. Despite his experience, Harris doesn't appear to be completely comfortable on stage.
Jesse Harris was followed by Arab Strap, a band from Glasgow. I have never been a big Arab Strap fan, always having been rather bored by their music which, to me, all sounds exactly the same. I was hoping their live show would change my opinion, but frankly it only helped reemphasize my negative view of them. There were plenty of Arab Strap fans in the audience who seemed more than happy with their performance. Arab Strap's music is like a lullaby; soft, sweet, sad, and pretty -- something I generally enjoy. Unfortunately, Arab Strap is fronted by Aidan Moffett, a man who, in my opinion, cannot sing. My apologies to all the Arab Strap fans out there and I know there are many of you, but come on, Moffett can barely sing 3 notes on key!
With all that being said, let's do a quick recap: Jesse Harris was great and proved that his Grammy Awards were well deserved; Arab Strap... well I think you got the point; and Bright Eyes was mind-blowing. Conor Oberst is a prodigy. Now I can only pray that the rumors about Conor and Winona Ryder are nowhere close to the truth. And Conor, if you're reading this, will you marry me?