Conor Oberst is not a hero, but he was mine for a while. When I was 14 I wrote the lyrics to a Bright Eyes song on my bedroom wall. Because I was emo and mostly because my parents let me. Sunday night I got the opportunity to feel the freedom of my twenties and the ache of my teens. By the looks of the crowd I can assume that is what we were all doing in some way. I was sitting toward the back and ahead of me I could see people who had just met arm in arm, careening back and forth together. Several times throughout the show I heard a shout of “I love you, Conor!” It was as if the fandom of a boy band had entered the bodies of 30-somethings.
Oberst opened with “Tachycardia”, allowing those of us (read: me) who only knew his popular solo work to get our ya-yas out. His new album feels familiar enough for those who aren't acquainted with it to sway comfortably and almost mouth the words as if you knew them. I'd never been to a show alone and instead of feeling lost I felt comfortably singular. I got to cry to a delicately bare album with my hands in my pockets and no one was there to half-heartedly ask if I was okay.
A common and quite frankly, boring observation that many have had of Conor Oberst is that his voice is flawed. But I think that the cuts you feel when he sings is reason enough to understand that talent is completely relative. As always, Conor displayed his ability to tell stories. He remained at the piano for the first three songs. One of them being “Gossamer Thin”, a song that sounds like escape. His back was turned toward the crowd while he alternated between the harmonica and sweeping the keys. The songs off Ruminations felt lonely in a way that was different from his other work. Without much musical accompaniment (there was one other bassist) the lyrics were allowed to take control. Each song began to feel more and more like an extended poem.
By far the most beautiful part of the night was Oberst's closing song, “At The Bottom of Everything.” Which was coincidentally, the one I had written on my wall as a teen. Before the opening chords he pleaded with the crowd a bit. Asking us that if we believed in humankind, in equality, in love, that now was the time to make it known. Someone who I had been sitting next to put her hand on my shoulder, as I saw so many other people in the crowd begin to do. In that moment, “I” became “we” and singing along turned into screaming along.
“And into the caverns of tomorrow / with just our flashlights and our love / we must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge”
Of all the ways art can function in our lives, I most value its ability to unify.