Bright Eyes - Live @ The Bowery Ballroom, 3/2/07

This past Friday night Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes played the first of 2 sold-out shows at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. The set covered all 6 songs from Four Winds EP, which is to be released this Tuesday, March 6, as well as offering a small glimpse at Cassadaga, the new album due April 10. The new 6 piece band, featuring long time member Mike Mogis on guitar, mandolin, and pedal steel, spent the evening joyously trading off between instruments. They were joined mid-set by friend M. Ward for 2 songs off of Four Winds, who added his trademark tasteful musicianship.

The enthusiastic crowd was receptive to the new material, politely listening to quieter songs such as “Smoke Without Fire” and “Tourist Trap”, and erupting for “Four Winds” as though it was a long time favorite. The set featured only a handful of offerings from past Bright Eyes albums. Introduced as a ‘country song’, “Make War” showed up several songs into the set, to the delight of the crowd. It was given a noisier, feedback fueled arrangement that suited the song well, despite not really resembling ‘country’ very much at all. The encore closed with “Laura Lament”, a rousing sing-along between band and audience.

The night’s biggest crowd-responses were saved though for the 2 songs played from I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now” came early in the set and displayed the band’s ability to play intricately arranged folk-rock songs. Mogis’s mandolin swept in and out beautifully, perfectly complimentary to Oberst’s vocals, and the crowd erupted at the close of each verse. “Old Soul Song” was the last song before the encore. It benefited from a more rock-oriented arrangement, as Oberst led a twin electric guitar attack, and was punctuated mid-song by a drum-fill from Rachel Blumberg that propelled the song, and the set, to a dramatic finish.

The decision to ignore so much of his back catalog was somewhat gutsy, but the 3 new Cassadaga songs came across well. Not as successful was the decision to play all of the lesser songs off of Four Winds. “Stray Dog Freedom” is especially awkward, and sounded so, coming across as mediocre 70’s rock. “Cartoon Blues” was energized, with the band obviously giving it their all, but has a melody that sounds too familiar to stand out among the new songs. Only “Reinvent the Wheel” improved upon its slick studio incarnation, as it was helped along by M Ward’s sharp harmonica playing. Still, these songs didn’t make Cassadaga for a reason, and made an otherwise impressive set a little too heavy on the b-sides.

One would imagine that as the tour progresses Bright Eyes would focus more on the Cassadaga songs, and sets would undoubtedly improve if they did. New song “Soul Singer In A Session Band” was a rousing way to kick off the encore, as it posesses an almost drunken-Irish sing along personality, and is sure to become a fan favorite. I’m sure most folks left the Bowery Friday night feeling they had just witnessed a great show, and they’d be perfectly justified. Far from disappointed, I left hoping to catch another show in about 6 months with a much different setlist.

Here's a video from Friday of "Four Winds". And no, he isn't lip-synching:

Big thanks to Stuart Mockba for the great pics!!


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