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Last Night: Conor Oberst at Culture Room


John Hood

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale

Better Than: The Eagles after they slept with Leonard Cohen.

This should really be called The Night Before Last Night seeing that ol’ Bright Eyes’ boy wonder played on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, but I’m gonna keep it as is so nobody gets confused. Besides I’ve got a great excuse for filing late. Actually, I’ve got two excuses: Marisa Tomei and Darren Aronofsky, who were both in town yesterday hyping their very kickass The Wrestler. And yes, yours truly was granted an audience with each. I don’t know about you, but Marisa trumps Conor every time, and though this is my first foray with Aronofsky, the cat was cool enough to chat with me whereas Conor decidedly was not, even after repeated requests, which makes the director much more amenable to me too.

In fact Tomei and Aronofsky were here on Tuesday night as well, for a packed-house screening over at The Regal. That’s where I was right before making the trek to Pompano for Oberst, and that’s why I only caught Conor’s last three songs.

But I digress even before I begin, which shouldn’t bother Conor any considering his sound kinda starts as a digression to begin with. And if coursing off through 20th century Americana song forms before coming to the songs themselves is not a digression then I don’t know what is.

Of course that wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong about song, and it undoubtedly won’t be the last. Yet you’ve gotta admit that Oberst’s amalgam of folk and country and rock -- not to mention the hybrid offspring of each -- surely is "a diversion from the main highway" even if it’s not "a deflection from his goal" which is what says a digression is in the first place.

So the show, or what I saw of it anyway. Conor hit Culture Room backed by the Mystic Valley Band, who are Nate Walcott, Jason Boesel, Macey Taylor, Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth, who in fact half spring from the Saddle Creek stable, and in spirit resemble nothing if not a rag tag version country rock yesterdays. Hell, any one of the members could’ve been a Burrito Brother, with Oberst, naturally, serving as their Gram Parsons.

And that’s kinda the problem with Conor -- he’s steeped so deep in the sound of the ‘70s it’s easy to forget his pivotal place in today’s soundscape. It’s also a large part of his charm, and his magic, because no one evokes a ghost as well as someone who’s intimate with its history.

And at Culture Room I swear I saw ghosts, of Parsons, of Buckley, of The Byrds, and, most resoundingly, of The Band, to whom Oberst and his Mystic Valley cohorts owe more than a few tunings. Sure “NYC – Gone, Gone” could’ve come from some hay-strewn hoedown rather than The Last Waltz, and “Eagle on a Pole” is more Bright Eyes than Robbie Robertson, but “MOAB” (which I missed) has Rock of Ages written all over it.

Yet when Oberst stripped off all that past and came through with a poignant version of “I Got a Reason #2” I again was reminded why the cat continues to leave a mark on so much of the present. And that’s kinda why K and I drove all the way up to Pompano.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I’m a sucker for any singer who knows his way around melancholy.

Random Detail: That Oberst and company would go out of their way to play more intimate venues and then ban smoking kinda defeats the whole purpose of getting all barroom.

By the Way: You can stream the whole of Conor Oberst’s solo album at

-- John Hood

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John Hood

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