Now 27, Oberst hasn't exactly settled down, but with the group's latest – and seventh – studio album, Cassadaga, he's certainly found a solid middle ground between the experimental (computer/electronic) and folk stylings that both pepper his extensive catalog.
This is not to say that he's lost any of his edginess. Along with Bright Eyes' two other permanent members, producer/guitarist Mike Mogis on guitar and Nate Walcott on piano and trumpet, two percussionists/drummers and a six piece orchestra (cellists, violinists, a saxophonist and flutist), Oberst took the stage for one of the band's most thrilling performances yet.
Cassadaga refers to the Floridian town that is a community of spiritual mediums. On the night of the show, the stage was covered in fake flowers, setting the mood for a funeral rather than a rock concert.
Clad in all white, the musicians led the audience through the odyssey of Cassadaga , touching on themes of substance abuse (“If the Brakeman Turns My Way”), love (“Make a Plan to Love Me”), holy wars (“Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed)”), death (“Four Winds,” “No One Would Riot for Less”) and the afterlife (“Cleanse Song”).
All of the tunes were set to a unique set of images projected onto the band members' bodies and a huge screen behind them. An artist sat at the back of the concert hall drawing, dropping food coloring and de-petaling flowers onto an overhead projector all in time to the songs being played.
Not all of the material performed was from the new album. “False Advertising,” an upbeat version of “First Day of My Life,” “I Believe in Symmetry,” featuring powerful work by the female dual drummers, and a beautifully simple version of “Lua” were all highlights of the evening.
Support act Gillian Welch and David Rawlings returned to the stage for Oberst's “favorite part of the night,” a rendition of Welch's “Look at Miss Ohio.”
Capping off the night was the sonic explosion from 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning known as “Road to Joy.” If you've ever seen this song performed live, you know what to expect.The group pounded its instruments, Walcott banged his trumpet on the floor, Oberst ran about tearing flowers apart and throwing them into the crowd. Bright Eyes showed us that although they've matured stylistically, they certainly have not lost any of their fire.