Eye and Eye

Eye and Eye

Bright Eyes with Jenny and Johnny
Academy 1, Manchester
Thursday July 14, 2011

I never knew Bright Eyes appealed to so many poorly-mannered, musically-uninterested beer-mongers. It’s like an Oasis concert. I thought I was going to a hipster gig, where hipsters who like Bright Eyes (because all Bright Eyes fans are hipsters you know) could politely convene and wallow in our misunderstood anxiety and marvel at Conor Oberst and catch a glimpse of Jenny Lewis supporting. Incidentally, I read this week that 93% of people who call people hipsters are indeed hipsters themselves. Me? I don’t really know what a hipster is.

Whatever, the crowd here tonight is mostly great with the odd spattering of people who have only heard ‘First Day of My Life’, aired in the encore. Fully utilising his back-catalogue, it’s pleasing to hear that, artistically at least, Oberst’s voice is still riddled with angst and he still sounds like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The quieter moments are stunning and intense where we’re treated to two tales of suicide (‘Poison Oak’ and ‘Ladder Song’) and the fantastically rambling ‘Landlocked Blues’, Conor’s voice cutting through the arena like a knife.

Elsewhere, the thundering ‘Jejune Stars’, subtly pop ‘Shell Games’ and the eerie, tentative ‘Approximate Sunlight’ are played from new record The People’s Key.

On the day it was confirmed that Rilo Kiley have split, Jenny Lewis supported with boyfriend Jonothan Rice (under the moniker Jenny and Johnny), playing songs from their debut I’m Having Fun Now, including the surf rock ‘Big Wave’ and poppy ‘Scissor Runner’. Oberst also delves into his bands poppier moments, with 2004’s ‘Take It Easy (Love Nothing)’ being aired, perhaps fitting in with the latest records more electronic sound. Still, there’s time for the haunting and tragic ‘Something Vague’, while ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’ is delivered with typical invective and ‘Four Winds’ is a delightfully bouncy country tale of faith, religion and lack of it. Lewis and Rice meanwhile return for a sublime rendition of Gillian Welch’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ in the encore, which is succeeded by a rapturous ‘Road to Joy’.

Conor talks minimally throughout, only briefly discussing dropping out of university and then raising his spirits to emphatically introduce every member of the band before set closer ‘One for You, Once for Me’, which is one of those performances that makes to realise how good a song really is. Tucked away as the obligatory album closer on The People’s Key, tonight’s performance is brilliant, fuelled by persistent drums, sonic synths and Oberst’s ying yang lyrics and Rastafarian references to unity and "# I and I #". It’s a perfect end to the show. Let’s hope this album isn’t their finale and Oberst, Mogis and Walcott with their rotating band of accomplished musicians feel the need to continue this exciting musical venture. Performances like this are exceptional and Bright Eyes are a very special band indeed.

words: Ste Grindrod