Malcolm Middleton as support. Well, it’s a good way to kick things off. I mean, I’ve paid about 15 quid to see Malcolm Middleton do his solo shows in the past, so to see him as the support for this show was a pretty massive bonus. It was weird though, because when he took to the stage it was to almost no reaction from the crowd. He could have been any old punter, apparently, to the audience at Oran Mor. Not a former half of one of Scotland’s finest and most recognised bands. It was frankly odd. Perhaps down partly to the age of many of the audience members, perhaps down to the fact he was sporting a little cap, glasses and a ginger beard – almost incognito. The point about audience was raised by Middleton himself after his second number “I just made the cardinal sin of looking your audience in the eye – even worse, looking somebody else’s audience in the eye” he quipped. He mentions that the music he is playing is from a new record he’s recorded “for something to do” before saying it’s mainly instrumental so “just think, or talk amongst yourselves”. When the audience take that as a sign to have a good old blether during the next number Middleton’s response is “when I gave you the choice to think or talk…well I’d have done exactly what you all did too”. The lack of attention was a real disappointment because Middleton’s performance was just lovely. In his short set, not only does he show off his skills as a talented song writer, but as a very talented guitarist. It’s completely different to anything I’ve heard from him in the past, but it’s just great and I will be checking out this new project. You should too. Do so here.
Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott. It’s easy to forget this fact given that everything seems to centre around Mr Oberst, a point highlighted by the fact he delays his entrance to stage coming on last after the others have their places. And everyone is here to see him, right? Well, I guess the answer for me would be yes and no. The man is quite clearly a brilliant front man. He’s cool. He’s good looking. He’s a bit of an enigma in many ways. On stage he is restless, prowling around, moving from one band member to the next, engaging with the crowd as if he is Ricky from Kaiser Chiefs and in general making himself the centre of attention in every way possible.
However, equally as interesting to me is what is going on around him. With Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst has a collection of brilliant musicians who seem to be able to cope even when his behaviour is a little rock n roll (immature!?) – case and point being during set closer ‘One For You, One For Me’ when he launches a beer over his head that lands on Nate Walcott’s keyboards, soaking them and making for one very pissed off looking band member. And so he should be pissed off, because it is fundamentally the trio of Walcott, Mogis and drummer Clark Baechle (he’s single apparently) along with keyboard/vocalist Laura Burhenn – that hold the whole show together. Indeed, Walcott has so much to do during the performance that I am surprised he can actually remember everything during the enthralling two hour show. It’s funny how quickly a front man can get pissed off when others do things wrong (I should know) but all he/we has to do is play guitar and sing – believe me, it’s not that hard to manage. Far harder is when you have 4 sets of keyboards and a trumpet and need to remember all your parts on a song never mind 2 hours of songs. I did this with Mammoeth and Woodenbox and it’s much, much harder to contribute everything to somebody else’s songs than it is to play the ones that you yourself wrote. So, as Oberst captures the hearts of the girls who want to touch him and the envy of the young guys who long to be him, I spend most of my time focusing on the musicians around him and just how fucking class they are.
That’s not to say the songs are not brilliant. They are. However, without the people around him I fear that Conor Oberst would be far less important and that, in any band, is how it should be. With Bright Eyes the contrast works perfectly. Oberst taking the spotlight and the others just doing what they do. The balance is right and it seems to work for everyone.
The first half of the set was simply blinding. Predominantly made up of new tunes, tunes from ‘Cassadaga’ and ‘Digital Ash’ it was full pelt and full on and is completely captivating. It’s when he drifts in to older territory that I was a bit lost, though the music remained very, very good. The band is so tight and the instrumentation is simply sublime. My only criticism in any way is the use of 2 drum kits. When 2 are required due to different beats it worked. However, too often the second kit seemed to be there to add weight to the overall sound and it is really not required. The drummer is so good that I really don’t see the need for the second drummer on many occasions. Still, a small quibble.
As Oberst spat his way through tunes from ‘Wide Awake’ and earlier it was really interesting to note that, in the same way that the new songs stand out on record, they stand out in the live arena too. As my review of ‘The People’s Key’ suggested, Bright Eyes have produced their best record to date, so it’s no surprise that it is these songs that I enjoyed the most in the set. True diehard fans may disagree with me on this point but, I really do think they’ve found their sound with the new songs and trying to make the older ones fit didn’t always work for me. Sometimes you just need to let them be what they are, rather than updating them to fit a set.
Overall, this was a great performance for a first night of a tour. Oberst will always be the centre of attention. It seems to be the way both he and the band like it though. By letting him hog the spotlight the other members of Bright Eyes can focus on making the whole thing sound amazing. The other night it did.
However, the night for me was soured a little by an incident that occurred during the encore, when the woman standing behind me fainted. I mean, she decked it. Badly. The people around were brilliant and got her into the recovery position and made sure she was ok. However, the way the whole affair was handled by the staff at the venue was nothing short of shocking. When told that a woman had fainted, one member of security simply shrugged his shoulders! Nobody popped round to tell the band to stop playing, make an announcement and let the woman be safely moved from the middle of the venue. So the encore raged on and eventually a doctor waded through the crowd to help her. Now, I’m not criticising Oran Mor directly for this whole situation, but I do believe that the health and well being of a person should come before the music going on on stage. The band were oblivious to the event too but I am sure would have gladly missed a song from the set so she could be properly attended too.
So yeah, to sum up. Brilliant gig. Appalling medical response.