Live: Bright Eyes at Fillmore Miami, March 2

Bright Eyes
With Cursive
Fillmore Miami, Miami Beach
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In the middle of Bright Eyes' set at Fillmore Miami, Conor Oberst acknowledged that spending six years away from Miami was too long. Judging by the bevy of tears dripping down elated faces in the crowd, even 24 hours without this wonder boy would be a painful wait for some. It was fitting that the rain poured down after Wednesday night's concert on Miami Beach -- except if you were this guy. Even the skies can't hold this much raw emotion inside for long.

As expected, all of this fuss was worth it. The precision displayed by a mop-topped Oberst and his six-piece backing band -- featuring two drummers, a bassist, two "multi-instrumentalists," and the Mynabirds' lovely singer, Laura Burhenn, on backing vocals and keyboards -- showed that their three days of rehearsals at the venue were fruitful. Although there were pronounced pauses between songs, it's likely a result of Oberst needing a breather after a good bit of thrashing around his surroundings.

The stage itself was quite a jumble of faux-futuristic props from outer space -- the most noticeable part being two halves of a crescent moon creating bookends for the performers. As the night spanning a mostly Americana-oriented set with numbers from all of his albums from the past decade progressed, the moons took on different colors to set the mood for each song. During new song "Beginner's Mind," Oberst, clad in a dark, buttoned-down shirt with the cuffs flying free, turned around and caught a quick glimpse of himself up on the video screens in the back.

For anyone who has waited a full six years since the last experience with Bright Eyes, this writer included, the biggest shift was undoubtedly Oberst's calmness onstage. The self-confessed drunk who used to take steady pulls off beers throughout performances in the past, was too wrapped up in his artistry to bother with drink, for the most part. On this night, he was intoxicated with the world's conflicts in Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan and flicked his arm out while urging the crowd, "If you give a shit, do something about it."

Soaked with Mike Mogis' pedal steel, "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)" from I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning proved to be the right punctuation for his speech. By the building refrain of "they went wild," a stomping Oberst and his backing band went wild themselves. As their leader let his voice turn to a screech, the crowd continued what went on all night: singing along with every word.

Although "Shell Games" was definitely in the running, "Lua" proved to be the emotional breaking point of the night. With just an acoustic guitar and Nathaniel Walcott providing a jazzy horn backing, Oberst got every couple in the room to hold each other tighter. Under the evening's softest lights, he must have penetrated even the most jaded with this beautiful rendition of the pleasures and pains of love and drugs in New York.

If this level of cataloged obsession makes the Bright Eyes frontman uncomfortable, he hides it in the darkened stage, hair over his eyes, and in his defiant poses. This lingering sulk brings out a crowd of nurturers. He still took several opportunities to touch the hands of the mostly female crowd up front, and shrieks came pouring out. "Miami, you're so sweet," he said before launching into "a song about anonymous sex," the Cure descendant to "Bad Acting." As he played the organ onstage, it seemed as if he were playing every female's organ in the room as well.

Critic's Notebook

The crowd: Young, earnest, and sober. Who needs alcohol when you have Conor?

Personal bias: In spite of Oberst's regular flailing and head-banging, the mighty "Road to Joy" inspired one of the most polite ruckuses from the audience.

Overheard: From a group of girls leaving the show, "His hands are so soft." "He touched you? I can't believe he didn't touch me."

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