Steve at Telluride #8: The Con is On
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
It’s no secret that Conor Oberst is critically polarizing. I, for one, since he broke big in ’04, have been highly skeptical. It seemed to me that so many people were impressed with his songwriting prolificacy, his puffed-up fey lyricism, his panicky naval-gazing, and his calculated unwashed-but-doe-eyed demeanor that no one seemed to care that his Bright Eyes albums didn’t contain any good songs or that Oberst couldn’t sing. Despite considerable critical approval, I was convinced that this particular emperor was wearing no clothes. However, he’s made some smart improvements over the past couple of years—he moved to Mexico and formed a band, the young ragamuffins in the Mystic Valley Band, and, most important, he’s learned to write tighter, more melodic, less-lyrically-pretentious songs. So I had mixed expectations going into tonight’s performance.
And…he mostly battled me to a draw. If he isn’t at all times convincingly awesome, it’s not without trying. He put everything he had into tonight’s performance; how much he had is a matter of some question. One thing without question is that high school girls materialized in wiggling gaggles of fawning idol worship during his show. Conor played enjoyable versions of his best material from last year’s self-titled record (“Cape Canaveral,” “Sausilito”), and he was pretty funny, particularly when paging Oprah from the stage (“I heard she lives here”). The show ended with a lovely solo reading of this year’s “White Shoes.” Conor had much of the crowd in his palm but had the teenage girls ready to climb the highest peak here just to kiss the side of his bus.