Bright Eyes : Somerset House, Tuesday July 12
The most hated man on Worthy Farm strives to make amends
You have to feel a wee bit sorry for Conor Oberst. There he is, spending his best years as alt.indie’s drunken boy in the bubble, his manifold wobbles and personality disorders providing a never-ending stream of comfort food for a generation of liberal 20-something humanities graduates. The sort of person who takes to his bed for a week when Bush gets re-elected; ain’t he just the sweetest!?
And then, like the boy Icarus, he takes that exact same routine a smidgen too far one Glastonbury night (and come on, do you stand by every idea you had on Sunday night at Glastonbury?) by leglessly dissing John Peel and Make Poverty History – two holy grails of humanities graduates everywhere – and suddenly he’s public enemy forevermore.
Thing is, it turns out there’s been another heresy on this tour that’s enraged the faithful even further: he’s not even playing songs from his acoustic record! Progress is the enemy of the die-hard folkie, and the heathen electronic half of the two genre-clashing albums he released simultaneously at the start of the year was enough to alienate most of those people anyway. The unfortunate truth is that neither of those albums ( ‘I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning’ nor ‘Digital Ash In A Digital Urn’ – the beat-driven latter aired virtually in full tonight) could hold a candle to their predecessor, ‘Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground’. So when he plays that record’s signature tune ‘Lover I Don’t Have To Love’ as an encore, it’s so much the song of the night that it’s a bit embarrassing.
The band, made up of members of electronic punkas The Faint, two drummers, a trumpeter and a couple of naked hoola girls wearing cardboard John Peel masks (not really) are quite astonishing. Where most live electro sounds programmed and clinical, the skilled and soulful delicacies of the band are the best thing about the show. But you can’t help but wish they’d learnt some of his non-‘Digital Ash…’ songs too. ‘Down A Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Take It Easy’ are highlights, but mostly this alien music is dragged uncomfortably down to earth by directionless songs that never quite manage to touch the ground.
Sensing his folly at Glasto, a solo Conor appeases the folkers with acoustic track ‘First Day Of My Life’ before declaring the bombings “super fucked-up” and telling us he loves us. Closer ‘Easy Lucky Free’ disseminates into an apocalyptic gang-bang electronic death noise, while somebody bashes a trumpet around like it’s a guitar. Peelie, you like to think, would have approved.