Bright Eyes at Brookes University - Oxford - 18 March 2007

Concert review by Aline Giordano

If you thought you came to this concert to listen to Bright Eyes perform their classic folk and indie songs such as 'First day of my life' and 'Easy/lucky/free', you would have been, like myself, utterly disappointed. Instead the set list was an odd choice, with only one song from 'It's morning I'm wide awake' performed, none from 'Digital ash in a digital urn' and equally disappointingly, none from 'Fevers and mirrors'. The band concentrated their efforts on the most country and Irish sounding tunes taken from various collaborative works with the likes of Neva Dinova and Britt Daniel, as well as tracks from 'Cassadega', album not yet released at the time the tour passed by England. Actually, technically not a tour as it only consisted of two dates: London's Koko and Oxford Brookes University.

The supporting act was Neva Dinova, AKA Bright Eyes live line-up without its front man Conor, and sounded fine although a bit soporific, but nice enough. Bright Eyes came on stage where a few (plastic?) palm trees had been put to act as decor. The band started their set with the cult 'Everything must belong somewhere', so far only been played live but featuring on the 'Cassadega' album.

At the first glimpse of 'We are nowhere and it's now', the audience cheered very loud probably so pleased to hear something familiar at last! Conor treated us with a slow and captivating version, with vocals at their most poignant. Then, 'Black Comedy', a Neva Dinova song from the 'One jug of wine two vessels' EP followed. The melancholy expressed in this song was so well complimented by Conor's fragile vocals. It ended in a chaotic and discordant refrain with Conor singing "take this weight away" supported by Jake Bellows' (from Neva Dinova) vocals.

My heart sank when I recognised the first bars of "An attempt to tip the scales" from the 'Fevers and mirrors' album. But, no, Conor decided otherwise and, instead, the band performed 'Four winds' (single not yet released at the time of the show, however widely available as free download on the internet). The Irish jig like song worked very well live. It was catchy, upbeat, euphoric and enchanting. So bewitching that one could nearly forget the acerbity of the lyrics (e.g. "Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe. There's people always dying trying to keep them alive").

'Laura Laurent' sounded as country as on the original version on the 'Lifted' album, albeit more disjointed. 'Spent on rainy days' may have pleased the die-hard fans as it does not get played live often, but it stuck out like a sore thumb, with its harshness and faster pace among a more country and mature choice of songs. 'Tourist trap' was painful to listen to as Conor's harmonica playing was more than approximate. I don't know whether it was because he can hardly play the harmonica or he was under the influence. Who know... Anyway, by that time it was clear that Conor would not play the more obvious tracks that made him a commercial success. People in the audience were starting to chit-chat and looking bored but they stayed hoping that his 'highness' would treat us with an acoustic version of 'Lua' or 'First day of my life'. But no, it was 'Soul singer in session band', from 'Cassadega', that finished the set, whilst a fiery version of "June on the West Coast" from 'Letting off the happiness' acted as the finale.

'Cassadega' was described on the Saddle Creek's website as "bursting with bombastic confidence and country swagger", and live, it certainly was full of country swagger and was bombastically confident, but borderline arrogant. The band took ages between the songs, leaving the very well behaved audience to wait patiently and in silence. However, even though the songs sounded at times a bit laborious and too rich, I'm sure that they sound great on the album and I can't wait to hear 'Cassadega' in its entirety.

But one question remains. Why did the band choose to play songs off the beaten track and not yet released ones? Was it to please the die-hard fan base? Was it because Jake Bellows from Neva Dinova himself was part of the line-up? Was it because the country songs fitted better with the Cassadega songs or because Conor had had enough of performing 'Lua' and 'First day of my life' to young fashionable damsels who think Conor's music is the panacea for human kind's malaise and more specifically to their own teenage uneasiness? Does Conor wish to attract a more mature audience, proving that he, too, is a grown up performer now? I do not know, and I've stopped wondering why.

For more details, visit… Bright Eyes' website