Conor Oberst, performing in London in March.Photo: Timothy Cochrane / Retna
Last night at Town Hall, Conor Oberst pulled out so many stars that if he’d flashed a shiny object at us, we might’ve had a seizure. Dressed in an all-white suit and looking more like Jack White every day, the Bright Eyes front man trotted out a Robert Altman film’s worth of special guests. Following Jenny Lewis, Lou Reed, and Norah Jones, who all made cameo appearances during previous nights’ shows, former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss rocked the skins with biceps that could have easily headlocked Oberst. Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner strummed up a tangle of Sturm und Drang. Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor stomped her cowboy boots and played her lovely “Song Beneath a Song.” Gillian Welch and David Rawlings joined Oberst for a Big Metaphor transcendental-folk ballad about ice cream and morphine and a man named Truth who apparently isn’t a very good salesman. Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard played “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and made a joke about how, with his shaggy hair, glasses, and tweedy suit, he can’t tell himself apart from the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy anymore. And everyone joined together for a rousing, raucous finale of “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” which peaked with approximately 300 forms of percussion being banged simultaneously on the downbeat, Rawlings smashing a defenseless little primary-colored toy piano, and Oberst throwing a bouquet of flowers into the crowd like a pathos-ridden truck-stop bride. Oh, and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo watched the whole thing from the balcony.
And still, even throughout a stellar five-star rave-up, we couldn’t stop glancing off-stage, where a skinny guy with white-painted fingernails was waving objects across an overhead projector: a Ouija board, an Etch-a-Sketch, strands of film, a candle, some Polaroid snapshots, colored-pen scribbles, a device that looked like a kaleidoscope made out of bubbles. Zoomed in on and blown up, the images cast eerie specters across the stage. When Oberst started to play “Hot Knives” and Projector Guy squeezed drops of food coloring into a water glass, we watched the red bleed in slow streaks across Oberst’s face, thinking that if a song about mysticism, medicine men, and excellent long-haired choogling has to end, then this is a beautiful way.
Photos from Bright Eyes’ Town Hall shows [Flickr]Bright Eyes, Streaked in Red