This night was one of the more bizarre I have experienced. The crowd was as vocal as I have ever heard, whether it due to frenzy or fever, I couldn't tell.
It started innocently enough with the easy sounds of Gram Parsons throwback Simon Joyner. His voice a bit off-key working with the pedal steel to get me halfway back to Nebraska before Conor Oberst had even come on stage. Then came Arab Strap, "Scottish atmospheric sex music" is what my friend and I decided it could best be described as. Their singer Aidan seemed more alive than his music with his drunken expletives between the songs.
Enter the icon himself, messy haired and swigging red wine against a chest that looked like it was about to cave in. His voice started hollow and thin then flung itself into a rich vibrato wail. Couples made out, middle-aged collectors leered in anticipation of greatness, and countless females got lost in the blissful hope of healing Oberst's angst.
Chide him for not editing himself, making fifteen eight-minute great songs instead of ten three-minute perfect songs, but it is impossible not to see the talent and promise dripping off his brow as he plays his sweeping grandiose country laments with a tinge of Robert Smith-like anger. His confession-laden lyrics perfect both twangy ballads and the relationship elegies of ‘80’s indie. Oberst manages something quite marvelous with his ever-changing line-up, sizeable catalog and drunken discourse: he brings back the feeling of honky-tonk, back to a moth-eaten booth in a bar just outside Lincoln, Nebraska circa 1961.
The little girls shrieking his name, feeling his pain, were understood by all in a charming, severely inebriated moment when Oberst sang a Marilyn-style Happy Birthday song to Arab Strap's Aidan. As Oberst tugged at the Scotsman's shirt, the embarrassed birthday boy left the stage. As Oberst playfully jabbed at his reaction, Aidan reemerged and did what I imagine nearly everyone that evening had been waiting for him to do–plant a sloppy, sweet kiss on the lips of the preternaturally talented headliner.