The fans at Bright Eyes show at Radio City last night were as placid and regal as the Christmas-tree chandelier hanging in the lobby. The only time a butt lifted off the velveteen seats during the gig's first twelve songs was when a lone cropped-hair lady standing in front of Conor Oberst danced, uh, wildly for “Old Soul Song.” The set had all the makings of a great show; Oberst played his tear-in-your-beer, warbly favorites “We Are Nowhere and It's Now,” “Bowl of Oranges,” and a beautiful, simple rendition of “Lua” with acoustic guitar, flügelhorn, and James Felice, of the opening act the Felice Brothers, on accordion. But the onstage energy just never made it to the crowd.
Oberst tried to cut through the glazed-eyed bliss by harping on evil, remarking that rock and roll is the only force for good remaining in the world — a genuinely uplifting sentiment from a man who’s been on the road with his music for a full year. During the finale, Oberst tried again to rally the now-standing crowd, launching into an antiwar speech and calling our nation’s leaders “irrational,” “maniacal,” and “soulless.” After he screeched “we are at a breaking point, the point where peaceful people become violent!,” his band clobbered their way through dirgy new protest song “Roosevelt Room.” Oberst got down on his knees to shred and tried to lift his amp. After wrestling it for a few moments, he retreated. When the revolution comes, Oberst should probably mend the uniforms. —Elizabeth Cline