3017 S.E. Milwaukie
Anyone who knows me is expecting this to be a love letter. Maybe they think I will relate in print the story I tell anytime someone puts a Bright Eyes record on the stereo: The time that my eyes briefly met those sparkling orbs of Conor Oberst, for just a moment I could feel the burdens of the earth lifted from my shoulders, and in that instant I could almost believe that …
… But no, I will tell no such story.
Instead, I will be a dignified reporter and write of Conor’s brilliance from a completely objective stance: that of the rabid fan. The rabid fan is always the most critical, so it is a perfectly acceptable position for an arts and culture writer to take. Judging any change in an artist’s familiar style with absolute skepticism, giving the evil eye to anyone unrecognized from past performances, we rabid fans are the Old Guard. We are the crowbar stuck in the gears of progress, hoping to stop time so we can live within that one perfect moment, that perfect album or tour, forever.
That’s right, you not-so-rabid fans, when you see us wipe the foam from our mouths, roll our eyes and make gestures toward the audience, we are talking about you! “O, those newcomers!” we will say. “Holy fools, every one.” We will talk about the songs that we hope he plays, such as “Going for the Gold” or “A Perfect Sonnet,” and about whether or not he played them the last time we saw him. We will be quite boisterous so that everyone knows that we have in fact seen him before and are by no means fellow newcomers. Then, as if in a trance, Conor will step onto the stage. His voice will breathe into the microphone, our arrogant mouths will shut and we, along with every other soul in the theater, will experience nothing less than rapture.
Outside, waiting for the bus home, we will speak in hushed tones of the greatness of the performance. But during the concert, the foam will continue to drip on the floor and our wiping hands will be busy with the tears streaming from our eyes.
While we, the Old Guard, have become increasingly worried that Bright Eyes’ increasingly elaborate orchestration is going to swallow him whole, this is also one of the premier joys of his live presentation.
When the songs break open and everyone is playing, Conor is leaning his head back, falling halfway off his chair and screaming his heart out, with an absolute disregard for microphone placement. Completely inaudible to the audience at this point, tearing his fingers open for chords you don’t hear, it is then you understand the beauty of Bright Eyes: Conor isn’t playing for you or anyone else. He is playing because it is what he does and he doesn’t care at all whether anyone wants to hear it. If the rest of the world stopped listening, the strumming and screaming would not stop. Instead of the Aladdin Theater, the rabid fans would be making a road trip to Nebraska, straining our ears to hear the music faintly drifting up the heating vents from an Omaha basement.