WASHINGTON, July 8, 2014 – Conor Oberst is commonly recognized as a legend in any number of indie rock scenes. For many people, his best-known work has been with the band Bright Eyes. But he’s been involved in so many other projects that the Bright Eyes linkage necessarily common knowledge just the same.
Yet more often than not, even among very legitimate collaborations with other musicians, he’s the first name that comes up within the description that anything he does is just known as extension of his own music. This made his recent solo work at the 9:30 Club – albeit with a full band, the opening band Dawes in this case – seem a bit strange. But in reality, his eclectic collaborations and pairings are actually fairly routine.
The reasons Oberst is well known and respected throughout the indie rock, emo and post-hardcore communities are plentiful, largely focusing on his own talent. A big part of this respect is due to the simple fact that he’s been doing his thing for a really long time.
To put that in closer perspective, Oberst is 34 years old and he’s been known in the indie rock community for just over 20 years at this point. This kind of thing might be routine for musicians who come from stage families, but that certainly wasn’t the case with Oberst.
Someone seeing Oberst performing his solo work at the 9:30 Club without much prior knowledge of his career outside of, say, Bright Eyes, wouldn’t see much to differentiate the two. Both gigs would easily fit into a similar groove and a listener likely wouldn’t miss a beat, even if unfamiliar with his recently released material off the 2014 album Upside Down Mountain.
But people always try to find new ways to describe Conor Oberst’s music. It’s a natural reaction, especially with an artist who has been around as long as Oberst, for audiences to discover some new tweak or hidden depth to the way he plays or with regard to his lyrical content.
But as a songwriter, he’s talented enough and has been enough of a well-rounded musician for so long that he’s become something of an institution—something that attracts this kind of speculation.
That said, what people generally expect from Conor Oberst these days were on display at the first night show we attended: one of two sold out shows at the 9:30 Club.
The strength of Oberst’s material in this show was centered in the emotional resonance of his songs, as well as his ability to be up close and personal without alienating the audience. He consistently explores concepts that are close to him, yet doesn’t get so esoteric that he loses the connection with the audience.
He has always been able to bridge the gap between esoteric and audience by sharing mainly those personal details the audience can personally relate o.
Granted, this sounds like the way any decent singer/songwriter would approach the personal in his or her songs. But what ends up setting Oberst apart is his utter devotion to creating a sense of uniqueness within indie rock by throwing n different arrangements without merely allowing his lyrics to do the heavy lifting. There’s enough complexity throughout his performance that the audience can fade in and out of his songs and always catch back up when they so choose.
It’s fitting he had Dawes backing him for this set because together, they’re able to enhance the laid back nature of Oberst’s most recent material, giving the entire set an enjoyable lack of edge.
Oberst is never trying to reinvent himself. He might play around with different tempos or arrangements. But to everyone in the crowd and countless others who will attend the other shows on his tour, he will always be Conor Oberst, regardless of what band he might be in or whether like on opening night at the 9:30 Club, he was performing songs he has crafted independently.
Oberst is a constant timeline in the indie universe who keeps things interesting by performing consistently excellent and at times genuinely transcendent music.