Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
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A figure stands onstage, hunched uncomfortably over a guitar. Dusky hair scrawls against the palloured hues of his face and beads of sweat are beginning to form upon the furrows of his brow. Coughing and spluttering, mumbling and drawling senselessness into the microphone, between the close of one song and the opening of the next our star seems an unlikely, even an impossible one. But as each of Conor Oberst's tales of journeying far through countless lands and loves begins, a spark of purity and passion captivates his audience rendering them spellbound.
Having recently abandoned his long term alias of Bright Eyes and all of the oft recited tracks and lovingly worn records the title envelopes, he takes on the daring task of trying to please an audience who, for the most part, simply want to hear songs he is not willing to play. They are the songs that have brought him this far, that have wrought him a loyal and awe-captured following of hopeless romantics and wry optimists. To them, the past umpteen albums are a tap straight to their hearts and a release for their minds for tonight living firmly in the past. Like sand pictures in a bottle, the next era of Oberst's workings is a new layer and dimension to his tale, but ultimately carved from the same familiar fragments of beautiful, raw, natural matter and timeless prose.
There's an intriguing sense of lost innocence about Conor, as he stumbles around the stage half-speaking-half-singing about the world and it's woes with a blissful and almost childlike frankness. Where so many of our idols aspire their whole lives to create music that moves and affects people, it seems that Oberst's is an uncomfortable result of his own afflictions, like making music isn't an option but merely the discarded remains of him sifting through the chaos and burdens lying heavily inside his fascinating mind. Nothing seems deliberate, premeditated or contrived. Oberst's true magnetism is the shocking honesty of seeing a man open his heart, tear apart it's flaws and leave the tattered remains out for judgment. As he spits his words at the microphone, the conviction and passion that weighs thickly through the gravels of his voice make every syllable seem more intense, more important and more vicious than the last.
Tracks from his new eponymous album come into their element as the so-titled 'Mystic Valley Band' colour in outlines painted loosely and freely by their creator, wading more and more deeply into the Cash-tinged Americana that has increasingly flavoured his works over the past few years. And as Oberst's strained voice falters and cracks, his peers jump to his rescue attempting to smooth over his roughly hewn lead as it teeters on the shambolic.
Conor Oberst is by no means the best singer in the world, he is not the most inventive songwriter nor the most charismatic showman. His allure is much more potent than that. A true story-teller and poet, Oberst’s talent lies in his ability to draw his audience into his own world, to describe it to them with words that dart straight to their hearts and saturate their imaginations with colour and empathy - to captivate and inspire them, leaving them clinging to his every word. Whilst tonight's show is far from technical perfection, it serves to remind that Conor Oberst is and remains to be one of the most important and genuine talents of our generation - regardless of the guise he uses, the band he employs and even, to a certain extent, the songs he selects to play.
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