Bright Eyes: Shepherds Bush Empire, London, Tuesday July 3

Bright Eyes: Shepherds Bush Empire, London, Tuesday July 3

New album written by ghosts and motivational therapy over the PA? Yep, Conor’s back in town

Over the cacophonous dischord of Beelzebub’s personal string section tuning up for a performance of The Evisceration Concerto, a motivational therapist, recorded down a phone line, attempts to heal the Empire’s wounded soul. “Go back through Arizona and go through Texas… getting rid of the old feelings, the old ways of thinking…”

This is ‘Clairaudients (Kill Or Be Killed)’, a dedication to the Florida community of psychics and spiritual healers in Cassadaga where Conor Oberst claims he co-wrote his new album with ghosts, like some kind of rockin’ Derek Acorah. To its atonal bluster emerges Oberst, his band and a string section clad all in white suits like the world’s saddest evangelical choir. This lad is big fan of the themed tour, what with the ‘Digital Ash…’ electronica outings, and the now, er, legendary Glastonbury 2005 John Peel Was A Tosser Tour. And so tonight’s uniform mirrors the concerns of the album it’s largely drawn from: spiritual ascendance, the search for belonging and purity of heart, mind and blood-stream. There’s even a bunch of flowers at the foot of Conor’s mic stand, as if commemorating the inner demons that are to die there.

So far so Tom pissing Cruise, right? But while Oberst in a post-drug meltdown can verge towards the Scientological, seven near faultless albums as heartbreaking as a car bomb attack on Shrek’s house have proved him something of the alt.folk Morrissey. ‘Middleman’ and ‘…Kill Or Be Killed’ are tense beasts tonight, Oberst’s tremulous wobble quivering with some repressed mania. Plus they’re clad in poetry so affecting, open and wise that they inspire the kind of devotion usually reserved for minor Hindu deities or knickers ‘designed’ by Kate Moss. Add in the ballsy political vitriol of ‘Four Winds’, the delectably sway-along Mary Poppins-isms of ‘Make A Plan To Love Me’, a fiddle-icous hoedown version of ‘First Day Of My Life’, and a closing ‘At

The Bottom Of Everything’ that’s the most celebratory song ever written about dying in a plane crash, and you’re left with a gig of staggering soul and resonance and quite possibly the closest this generation of songwriters has come to a no-bullshit genius. Things can only get brighter.

Mark Beaumont