Tag Archives: Conor Oberst

“Monsters” of Folk at The Greek

October 18, 2009
The Greek Theater, LA

Monsters. What do you think of when you hear the word “monsters”? Now imagine you hear the words “monsters of folk”. . . Do you hear it as “Monsters!! (arrrgggggrrrrr) of folk!!!”?? Or do you read it to mean that they’re so folk – the extreme folk – monsters? Did you expect really loud, monstrous rockin’ folk songs? Or did you expect quiet, extreme-folk, folk songs?

Monsters of Folk

Monsters of Folk

Well let’s just say, with Monsters of Folk, you get it all. Their set tonight was quite diverse. Quiet. Loud. Sit. Stand. Sit. Sit. Stand. It was like church. And everyone knew when to sit and when to stand. In fact, Jim James thanked the audience for being respectful and remarked, “Sometimes it’s hard with a folk show. The audience never really knows what to do. Some songs are loud. Some songs are soft. But you guys – you know exactly what to do.”

That said, there were one or two occasions when a couple people in the audience would cheer off-cue (usually prematurely) and others in  the audience would shush them.  It was a bit comical (not the fact that people cheered “early,” but the fact that other people actually shushed them).

The lights corresponded perfectly with the sentiment of the music.  At times, the lighting gave off a monochromatic look. It almost felt as though you were watching a black and white TV, with a few sepia tones thrown in to keep things interesting.  Other times, the lights changed fluidly from bright solid color to bright color solid color, in time with the music.  On occasion the lights would flash rapidly with the beat of the drum.  The lights really helped set the tone.  If you were confused about whether a song was a “sit” song or a “stand” song, you could just look to the lights for guidance.

This was a "stand" song

This was a "stand" song

You all know how I feel about Conor Oberst (if you don’t, you can read up about it here).  Well, tonight reminded me why I love him so much.

And you don’t know how I feel about Yim Yames (Jim James), but it began when My Morning Jacket made it rain at Bonnaroo in 2004.  It was further  confirmed during a conversation with MMJ backstage at Austin City Limits later that year.  It was topped off with a lengthy discussion about one-off bugs — bugs that have sex once and then die (are killed) -  i.e. praying mantis, black widows, etc.  I think highly, fondly, and – I say this with affection – strangely, of Yim Yames.

Then there’s M. Ward. Check.  And Mike Mogis.  I wasn’t consciously aware of Mogus, although he’s produced and engineered several albums I own.

Tonight’s show took place at The Greek, a theater I love.  It’s so beautiful up there and the sound is great.  They really should allow cameras so people can see what they’re missing.

The first half of the show was pretty mellow. Even the more rockin’ songs were somewhat low-key.  The audience was very quiet and respectful – it was a civilized, adult show.

Monsters of Folk

There's no right way or wrong way - You just have to live

Then something happened. . .  they turned the sound on.  Or at least it felt like they turned the sound on. The show took a turn and became loud, rebellious, fun, rock (relatively speaking, of course.  It was no Tool).  The audience was on their feet, cheering, the remainder of the night.

They played some Bright Eyes songs, some My Morning Jacket songs, some of the guys’ solo material, and some stuff off the new Monsters of Folk album.  One thing I noticed during the first set is that many of Oberst’s songs are sweet, catchy tunes about dark subjects.

I’ve been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don’t advertise
I’ve been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide

On the contrary, many of James’ songs are sad-sounding, happy songs. “Wonderful. . . beautiful. . . love. . . blah blah blah.”  But they sound like songs of grief.

That’s kind of how the show was – you never knew what to expect.  And just when you thought you did know what was coming next, you’d realize you didn’t really know a thing.

Check them out if you have the opportunity.

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Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band

The Echoplex, LA
August 27, 2009

A few things were going through my mind as I entered the Echoplex tonight:

  1. In a week and a half I’ll be standing in this same room, watching Nine Inch Nails perform their last show ever. . . or until Trent changes his mind.
  2. I hope Conor’s show isn’t as boring as the last one I went to (several years ago). I want him to captivate me again.
  3. How is the sound in this room?
I know that victory is sweet. Even deep in the cheap seats.

I know that victory is sweet. Even deep in the cheap seats.

Here’s some history about Conor and me: I love Conor. I think he writes great lyrics. He’s written some of my favorite lyrics. Conor chooses words with precision and I have deep appreciation for that. Words are extremely powerful.  And while I believe it’s important to say what you feel, the words you use to convey that feeling are even more important. Just one seemingly innocuous word can mean something entirely different to two people, depending on each person’s perception of the word and the previous experiences and meaning they associate with it. This is why I’m a fan of non-verbal communication. . . and Conor.

So in 2003, in New York City, when Conor asked me if he could write something in my journal, I didn’t waste time saying, “yes” – I simply placed the journal in his hands.  He took a breath, looked toward the ceiling, looked back down toward the paper and wrote the following words before closing the journal and handing it back to me:

Never go to sleep. Always lie for love.

There’s a double entendre in there of course. For the past 6 years I convinced myself he meant one thing.  And then 3 weeks ago I understood it differently. And that’s the thing about words – their meaning in an individual’s life can change over time.

Sometime prior to that moment, we were sitting on a couch, vowing to stay awake until we die so that we wouldn’t miss anything.

Even after all that, I’m able to remain objective about his live shows. And I will tell you this – the last time I saw Conor play it didn’t move me at all.  In fact, I left the show early (which rarely happens).

Thankfully, he won me over again tonight. First with his lyrics, then with his band (unassuming talented musicians from around the country), and then with his lyrics again.

I know I'm alone if I'm with or without you

I know I'm alone if I'm with or without you

In fact, I was so in tune with the lyrics that when Jenny Lewis came on stage and performed “Portions For Foxes” with the band, I heard things in that song I had never heard before.

During dinner my friend and I (both having recently seen The Dead Weather) were talking about how shows really don’t need to be longer than an hour. Just give us one solid hour when every song you play hits hard.  The Dead Weather nailed that. But after seeing Conor again (and knowing that I’d like NIN to play all night), I changed my mind. Just as I changed my mind about the words Conor wrote to me in 2003. . .

“Cape Canaveral” live at The Echoplex:

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