Review: Bright Eyes at Leeds O2 Academy

Rubbish phone picture of Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis

If Conor Oberst can be summed up in one word, it must be prolific. The Nebraska songwriter has released 22 albums under various names already, and he’s only 31!

Last night’s performance opened with a set by Jenny & Johnny, the latest project of Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis who is a long-time collaborator of Oberst’s1. As if to flaunt the inbredness of the US music scene, their drummer was Jason Boesel, perhaps best known now as a key member of Oberst’s project The Mystic Valley Band. Jenny & Johnny started out as a sort of electrified country outfit but by the end were cranking out some very original indie-rock tunes that definitely made me want to check out their album.

Bright Eyes came on about 8.45 and played for a full 2 hours and 20 minutes. And yet, I got the feeling even this wasn’t enough for Oberst. He simply loves playing his own music and this was evident throughout the performance. When songs rock, he rocks. Like a madman. When songs are sad, you can feel the pain. When songs are memorable, he loves his audience singing along. He even dived from the stage into the crowd and continued to sing during the finale performance of One For You, One For Me. He did, however, demonstrate a horrific lack of understanding of British geography and cultural rivalries (“London’s in the middle somewhere”, “I’m more of a Wales man”).

I can’t pretend to know all of Oberst’s back catalogue, but I enjoyed every minute of this very varied performance. Tracks from the new album like Shell Games and Jejune Stars work much better in a live setting than on the recording because they’re all about the big, loud sound, but they are perfectly complemented by the folk-rock of tracks from I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning and Cassadaga and the electronic sound of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. Another highlight was an older track, Lover I Don’t Have to Love, which had been adapted into the style of the latest album.

The encore included a cover of a Gillian Welch song performed alongside Jenny & Johnny, with Boesel increasing the number of drummers on stage to three. Jenny Lewis joined in to increase that number to four for the very extended version of Road to Joy that now incorporates an experimental “nightmare sequence” that was unsettling but brilliant.

And I got a new appreciation for his lyrics, especially those of Landlocked Blues.

A five-star performance. I urge all my readers to see Oberst under whatever name he’s performing whenever the opportunity presents itself!

Update: The full setlist has been posted at

  1. To me, for my sins, she’s most familiar as the other vocalist on Hard Enough by Killers singer Brandon Flowers. []


  1. Geraint
    Jul 25, 2011

    Is that Jenny Lewis as in “Rabbit Fur Coat”? That’s one of the albums I have where I can’t figure out _why_ I have it. Did she do something with Death Cab once? I’d have loved to hear her live.

    • Rich
      Jul 26, 2011

      That’s her. The singer from Death Cab featured on Rabbit Fur Coat, apparently. Not sure if she ever featured on theirs.

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