The only time I saw Conor Oberst perform was with Desaparecidos at the Social in Orlando last year. It was thrilling to see a band that broke up in 2002, whose music so many in the crowd had grown up with. In the press photo area, we were allowed to take pictures for the first three songs. These first three songs were rousing. It made my heart jump to hear them resurrected. Oberst is every bit as vibrant and evocative of emotion on stage as he is on his records, but for those first three songs he kept his hair in face. Once the songs were over, and everyone was told to turn their cameras off, he flipped his hair back to the side, they played a Clash cover, and again my middle school feelings sprang forward. It should have been an irritating thing for a journalist, to try and photograph a musician who seemed almost in protest of press but with Oberst, it somehow made sense. There were a lot of Bright Eyes shirts in the crowd and a lot of people who would wait for him by the Desaparecidos tour-bus when the show ended (their hopes were shattered after almost an hour). Oberst has previously stated that for the most part he wants to be left alone to do his music. That is somehow is unsettling to fans, but is it really so bad?
Conor Oberst doesn’t want to do small paper interviews, fan Q&As, or photo-ops. He won’t change the direction of his career to pander to girls who fell for him like Aaron Carter did. He is content to continue moaning in a microphone, and thank goodness, because that formula works. Conor Oberst won’t be our best friend, or the kind of guy in a band who occasionally tweets back, but he carried us through adolescence and into adulthood. He gave us sad songs to sing and scream along to with our friends at varying levels of intensity, as well as songs to sleep and take a quiet drive. That should be enough.
Oberst’s latest album as a solo musician Upside Down Mountain won’t be out until late May but the previewed track, ‘Hundreds of Ways’ is a promising song. It’s as light, summery, and danceable as Phosporescent’s Muchacho from last year. At the same time, the depth of Bright Eyes is fully demonstrated in an excellent way. The dark elements of Oberst’s writing don’t seem to have vanished, as he sings, “I hope I am forgotten when I die,” but the song has a more settled feel than many previous works. Oberst is now 34 and has been a recording and touring artist since the very start of his teens, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. He plays at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall on May 15th. Upside Down Mountain will be released on May 20th via Nonesuch Records.