Bright lights with Bright Eyes

Sarah Ashlock

Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes.
Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes.

On Saturday, April 2, the beloved indie band Bright Eyes sang their way into KC hearts at the Uptown Theater.

I’ve been a Bright Eyes fan for eight years. I remember riding the bus on the way to a debate tournament sophomore year of high school and listening to “Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh” on serious repeat.

Most Bright Eyes followers would agree the band has gone through a transformation from a fragility and simplicity in lead singer Conor Oberst’s voice to a more complex and polished sound.

In 2000, “Fevers and Mirrors,” the album that hooked me, was rough around the edges—in a good way. Oberst had a desperate sound which helped create angsty teenage fans.

Eleven years later, Bright Eyes has released “People’s Key” on Feb. 15 after a three-year hiatus, where Oberst pursued other projects such as Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band.

After such devoted listening, I had no idea what to expect of their live performance. Part of me wanted it to be the old Bright Eyes way. I wanted Oberst to stand with his acoustic guitar at the front of a barren stage, scream with a cracking voice “We must take all of / the medicines too expensive now to sell / Set fire to the preacher who is promising us hell / Into the ear of every anarchist that sleeps but doesn’t dream / We must sing, we must sing, we must sing” and make the whole crowd sullen.

There were a few moments like this. When he sang “Lua,” one of my favorites, it felt like the Conor we always knew and loved. He has the distinct ability to connect with the listener in a way very few live performers can perfect. There were beautiful moments when it felt as though he was singing directly to me, when the rest of the crowd faded and only his creative genius was left.

Certainly, though, it was different than old school fans would’ve expected. The majority of the songs, no matter how somber they were on the albums, had an upbeat intensity that created unexpected high energy.

In addition to the fast-paced spirit, they visually heightened your senses as well. Various colored lights bounced off two petal-shaped structures and the background was a Technicolor fantasy. Various images would flash on the screen behind the band, the coolest being when live video of the members would play whilst being artistically and digitally altered in some fashion.

Besides the greatness that is Oberst, I was blown away by the talent of the other members—especially the skillfully played electric guitar.

Despite the rock-star atmosphere, it was still apparent we were witnessing the Saddle Creek Records’ band.

This was especially evident when Oberst expressed his political views. After the Arizona Immigration Law was passed, Oberst along with other artists refused to play in Ariz. due to the policy.

Before playing an energized “Old Soul Song (For the New World Order),” he exclaimed his views of Kris Kobach who wrote the controversial Arizona Immigration Law:

“Kris Kobach…we’re coming for you motherf***er.” It was refreshing to see an artist unashamed of his beliefs and he helped create a more personable connection with listeners.

I can’t help but say that I miss the miserable Conor who always touched my angsty soul, but a mature and developed sounding Conor loved. Either way, he is a lyrical magician and will always explain emotional and social issues a little bit unlike and more ingeniously than most.

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