Monday, August 04, 2008

Conor Oberst @ Bottom of the Hill, 2 Aug 2008

With all the entrepreneurial energy in the United States, how come no-one has found a way to make the sound check superfluous? Why can’t concerts start on time? I think of these eternal questions as I wait. Tonight it’s particularly annoying to wait as I had come to the venue the night before without a ticket. I got the date wrong. It’s never happened to me before. The staff nodded sympathetically. And 10 minutes earlier people were trying hard to get rid of single tickets. Tonight I’m back again, with a ticket. The audience is young and 50% female. Next to me someone looks at wikipedia on their cell phone. On the other side a bloke shows off his iPhone to a girl. They play bass heavy reggae before the band comes on. I love reggae, there must be a special shop where you can buy boring reggae to play before shows.

It’s six piece band. There are three guitarists, breaking my #2 rule of rock: no band needs more than two guitarists. Wikipedia says that they play Indie Rock, but really they play in a Classic Rock style. It’s a bit Blonde on Blonde, it’s a bit E-Street Band. They’re all good players and the keyboardist is a great colourist. They’re really capable and so they’re not really pushed by the material. At one point the guitarist sings a song and everything brightens up: for once it could all go horribly wrong! But soon we are back to safety.

Conor Oberst is a good singer, and has nice songs. He can totally control that break in his voice that he uses so effectively on record. But he’s cold. There’s almost no interaction with the audience. This is in a tiny club, but I’ve felt more connection with Bruce Springsteen in (enormous) Wembley Stadium. Maybe we’re just there to admire him? People are chatting and taking lots of iPhone photos. Conor jumps on the drum riser. He raises his guitar aloft. I’m sure he feels it but I don’t. The band hits a groove, then changes gears in an instant. There’s a lot of head and not enough gut. I was disappointed.

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