Bright Eyes/The Mynabirds; March 15, 2011; The Riviera
I thought maybe I was done with Bright Eyes, but then again I also thought they were done. I hadn’t really liked 2007’s Cassadega, and Oberst’s 2008 release was simply titled Conor Oberst which in my mind spelled the end of the band. So I was a little surprised when I heard there was going to be a new record. The most obvious thing about The People’s Key is its great packaging, but one listen reveals it also has some pretty good songs. I’d been planning on going to this show, but it sold out before I got a ticket. Luckily, a friend had just gotten a great new job working at the booking agency who handles the Mynabirds and I was his plus one.
We walked in just shortly after they started at eight and settled into the front center section of the balcony. Pretty sweet, I definitely like his new job. After seeing how many girls were in the band, I was all set to hate the Mynabirds, but surprisingly I really enjoyed them. Not only was the girl drummer totally kick-ass but lead singer Laura Burhenn had a sassy Nancy Sinatra air about her, and a killer voice to match. When they ended their set with a song that she said we might know, I didn’t know if they had a hit or if it was a cover. It was a cover, but I was pleased to find it was a very cool one. I’ve heard a couple covers of the Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year,” but this was one of the best.
Even though currently the official Bright Eyes band is just a trio, made up of Oberst, guitarist/producer Mike Mogis and multi-instrumentalist Nate Wolcott, the live band is much larger. Burhenn returned as part of Bright Eyes band, playing keyboards and singing backing vocals. There were two drummers, which is always cool, but even cooler was when they started “The Calendar Hung Itself” (hands down my absolute favorite Bright Eyes song) and I looked up to see my friend Head of Femur’s Matt Focht on one of the kits. It was especially surprising as he’d been sitting one section over from me just minutes earlier. Throughout the night you could almost judge exactly how old a song was by how many people were singing along. New songs barely had any audience participation, even for the super catchy “Heavy Love,” while during songs from I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning like “Song of Joy” or Lifted’s “From a Balance Beam” Oberst was nearly drowned out by the crowd.
Bright Eyes has always had long talking introductions to his records, and I’ve never minded them much, but the one for The People’s Key is even longer than usual, and not very interesting. The show started with a recording of that intro, something about aliens in the bible, and the audience seemed mildly confused by what was going on, but when Oberst and the rest of the band took the stage they went crazy, an enthusiasm that lasted the entire night. Signs outside the venue warned that “Strobe lights will be used “extensively” during tonight’s show.” I am not sure what the quote marks were all about because extensively was exactly how they were used. They were a minor distraction in what was otherwise a pretty interesting light show. A large digital display behind the band showed random designs or close ups of the bass player’s hands and guitar, and colored fluorescent tubes adorned each mike stand. The most curious things were two big band shell type structures in the back corners of the stage. They didn’t really seem to serve any purpose other than to backlight Wolcott, which looked especially cool when he pulled out the flugelhorn.
I am happy to report that not only is Bright Eyes back, but they are back in excellent form. If only they would turn off those annoying strobes.