Nearly a decade ago, I was a disillusioned suburban teen that grew up attached to the music of the band Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst’s minimal songwriting and unrefined yet heart-wrenching lyrics cut to the core of young, angsty me. What was more heartbreaking was the probability that the trio of Conor Oberst, Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis had all moved onto other projects. While I would catch Oberst with his backing band (which featured Nate Walcott) I pined for a full Bright Eyes reunion but wouldn’t hold my breath. Between their pre-hiatus release “The People’s Key” the singer released three solo records, a project called Better Oblivion Community Center with Phoebe Bridgers, and a myriad of other collaborations/songs. When the band announced their initial reunion shows in 2020, it seemed like an exciting time for the group that, for obvious reasons, would sadly not come to fruition until 2021 in support of their comeback record “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.” Bright Eyes brought their 2022 World Tour to the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater.
Opening the show was Hurray for the Riff Raff, the project of singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra. On their newest record, “Life on Earth” released in February, the musician had shifted from the more confessional, stripped down acoustic ballads to a more fleshed-out full band sound, with elements of Americana. The three piece ensemble behind them allowed Segarra to play with samplers and project more to the audience. The performers behind them helped massively when issues with Segarra’s guitar prevented them from being heard properly on the speakers, and due to time constraints, opted to perform an incredibly solid set only with a mic in hand. While the band performed an energetic, rock driven show I did leave wanting to hear more of the confessional singer-songwriter tracks like “Pa’lante” that would have fit wonderfully opening for Bright Eyes.
Backed by an armada of four wind musicians, a string quartet, tour drummer Jon Theodore, and multi-instrumentalist Miwi La Lupa, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott took their place behind their instruments as Conor Oberst sauntered onto the stage, leading the troupe into war armed only with a microphone. Kicking off with “Dance and Sing” from their comeback album, Oberst strutted around the stage before kicking into a softshoe dance. While many of Bright Eyes’ arrangements are based around Oberst behind a guitar or piano, on the tracks from “The People’s Key” and their latest record, Oberst performs his literary lyrics in his signature quivering voice. As he traverses, peering up and down the audience behind his bangs, Oberst approaches the stage with the pathos of a theatrical tragic figure delivering a monologue through song.
The set for the evening primarily pulled from “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was” yet the new songs were used as a framework, with decades worth of music to pull from. Evenly dispersing tracks from their discography, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” tugged at some emotional heartstrings for early aughts nostalgia with the devastating “Poison Oak” to the upbeat “Another Travelin Song.” I found myself moving more at this show than I anticipated, with songs like “Four Winds” and “The Calendar Hung Itself” with strong beats that carried through the show. With the extremely versatile backing band, arrangements on “Old Soul Song” felt more full with Nate Walcott on trumpet accompanied by a full horn section, and especially the encore tracks “I Believe in Symmetry” and “One for Me, One for You” delivering a bombastic, orchestral ending to the show.
Dance and Sing
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Bowl of Oranges
One and Done
Old Soul Song (for the New World Order)
Falling Out of Love at This Volume
Persona non grata
The Calendar Hung Itself…
To Death’s Heart (in Three Parts)
Another Travelin’ Song
I Believe in Symmetry
One for You, One for Me