Tremendous folk rocker, Conor Oberst, treated the Royal Oak Music Threatre to a night of great music this past Wednesday night.
Oberst’s career has taken him from the calendar pinings of love, to spiritual Cassadaga awakenings with Bright Eyes, punk rock vibes of Desaparecidos, and Roosevelt rooms of the Mystic Valley Band…
Through the inevitable change of artistry, and the lifetime journey that everyone must face, one undeniable thing has remained the same – Conor’s ability to write exceptional songs.
With Oberst’s most recent releases of “Ruminations” and “Salutations“, both within a 5 month span of time, this music is open, honest, and sharp as ever.
On this last day of May, Saddle Creek band Big Thief opened the show.
Big Thief released their debut LP last year entitled “Masterpiece”, that was nothing short of the gem that its name would imply.
With a soft, yet powerful presence, Big Thief presented tracks both old, and new.
Wednesday was Big Thief’s first show joining Oberst on tour.
A few songs in, guitarist and vocalist Adrianne Lenker told the crowd, “My voice is a little raw. We just flew in from a folk festival in Texas. I sang and mostly talked way too much”. The audience applauded and cheered her on, someone even yelled that they couldn’t even tell.
“Thank you. We’re so grateful to be opening for Conor Oberst.”
The band announced to the crowd that their next album, “Capacity“, will be out on June 9th.
After an impactful set, full of emotion, Big Thief thanked the crowd and exited with a wave.
To a barrage of excited cheers, Conor Oberst took to the stage with his acoustic guitar and a new track in tow.
The songwriter began the night with “Afterthought”, off of his newest LP, “Salutations”.
To the great delight of the crowd, second up was a Bright Eyes cover of “Four Winds”.
This would be first of the many songs that spanned several projects.
Oberst made sure to keep an open, honest, and playful dialogue with the audience.
At one point he asked, “Do you have a college here?” With mostly silence in response he joked, “I’m an elitist. That makes me an elitist to talk about higher education… I dropped out after 3 semesters, University of Nebraska Omaha, to pursue being a folk singer”. He continued, reflecting that the crowd is witnessing the results.
He then asked if there were any architectural majors in the audience, to which one fellow raised his hand.
“Are you serious? Are you fucking serious? I can tell when people are lying. It’s a talent of mine… This one’s for you.” He started into Rumination’s “Mamah Borthwick”, an appropriate metaphor about transition, and building something sacred til the end.
Oberst’s musicality was on full display. Adding extra strums to certain jams, he bounded around the stage, and even joined face to face with a talented violinist and a fellow guitarist to rock out. He swapped instruments between an electric and acoustic guitar, as well as a graceful seat at the piano. Almost always, with a soulful harmonica around his neck.
During “Cape Canaveral”, he kept a thumping time with a steady tap tap tap on his acoustic guitar.
Further on in the set, a member of the audience shouted something indistinguishable, to which Conor replied, “Did you say go Big Red? That’s my favorite gum… Do you guys like consuming alcohol?” The crowd cheered an elated cheer, infinite decibels higher than anything regarding architecture. “There we go, that’s a crowd pleaser. That’s fun. Nothing to be proud of, nothing to be ashamed of.”
Oberst also included a track from his collaboration with fellow Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis, and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James … a Monsters Of Folk song entitled “Map Of The World”.
Late in the set, Oberst started into Bright Eyes’ “Poison Oak” (for a girl with a yellow bird tattoo, this was nothing short of spectacular to witness). It seemed just about everyone was singing along to each word.
After the track, “A Little Uncanny”, Conor and his band exited the stage.
The crowd roared and cheered until Conor appeared again, to sit at his piano.
He thanked the audience and started into a beautiful unknown song that fetched positive reaction from the crowd, honestly reflecting on lack of change, and not doing what is wanted.
Conor thanked the crowd again and exclaimed, “I’d like to bring my beautiful band back to the stage!” He made sure to introduce each and every member lovingly.
The band began into Bright Eyes’ “Train Under Water”.
After the song’s conclusion, Conor addressed the crowd with, “One more time for Big Thief!” After grateful applause, “One more time for these boys! … One more time for yourselves for being so nice to us. We appreciate it”.
Conor closed out the night with “Napalm”, from his latest LP release.
Conor Oberst will be touring on through much of the US, before heading overseas to continue what are sure to be extraordinary shows in Europe, before heading back to the states in September.
Words and photos by: Tiffany Cuthrell