Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band

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Bright Spark. Carling Academy 2, Birmingham (August 23).

At The Bottom Of Everythinggg!!’” pleads one desperate Brummie repeatedly, as the Academy 2 prepares for Conor Oberst’s much-anticipated return to some of the UK’s more intimate stages. He’s in for a disappointment: when it comes to the king of quivering indie’s new incarnation, Bright Eyes has been put to bed for a while.

Instead it’s all about The Mystic Valley Band, a rag-tag musical troupe with country twang in their hearts and blues on the brain. After a well-received blast of chirpy, lo-fi wonky pop from eternally babyfaced ex-Gorkys vocalist Euros Childs, our Nebraskan headliner strolls on stage flanked by five of his Mexican villa housemates, including members of both Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley.

‘Sausalito’, ‘Get-Well-Cards’ and ‘Moab’ provide a gutsy opening trio, Oberst roaring emotionally. A string of stripped-down ballads follow, including ‘Eagle On A Pole’ and ‘Lenders In The Temple’, so raw that people around us squirm, before the band pick up the pace again with storming blues folk standard ‘Corrina Corrina’ (dedicated to “a special Spanish señorita”).

His recent offerings may sound pretty jaunty on record, but Oberst’s delivery tonight is more reminiscent of the dark fervour of early Bright Eyes gigs; a brutally rendered ‘I Don’t Want To Die (In The Hospital)’ and a triumphant ‘Souled Out!!!’ bristle with electricity, minus the angsty navel-gazing of his previous act. You see, The Mystic Valley Band seem to bring out a more mature, muso side to the frontman. The crowd go wild for it, persuading the band back for a jazzy ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’ before thundering finale ‘Breezy’ finds Oberst pounding a piano, leaping on to amps and blowing kisses before darting off, leaving guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth to close this intense, astonishing show.

Camilla Pia