Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

The Electric Ballroom, London on Wed 27th Aug 2008

Conor Oberst is currently touring his critically acclaimed self-titled album with his new bandmates, the Mystic Valley Band (Jason Boesel on drums, Macey Taylor on bass, Nik Freitas and Taylor Hollingsworth on guitars, and Nate Walcott on keys). It's an extensive tour which started in the US, and takes in Europe, goes back to the US for more dates and then there are a smattering of gigs in Australia. Tonight, as part of the UK leg, he's at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and the 1100 capacity venue is packed to the seams.

The new Conor Oberst sound is very reminiscent of Bob Dylan and the Band of the mid '70s - all twangy, country-blues. They chug workmanlike through the tracks from the new album and Oberst doesn't greet the audience until after the sixth song. Evidently, the tour is taking its toll and he explains that "they are all sick – mentally, physically and spiritually". He's been battling a heavy cold, which doesn't seem to have adversely effected his vocals, though a couple of the other band members take turns at lead vocals on a few of the songs, including Hollingsworth's 'Central City' in the main set. For the most part, the music is almost uplifting, a bit of a departure from Oberst's previous incarnation and the more introspective Bright Eyes material. There are even a handful of danceable tunes, and a stompy, clappy sea-shanty of a song called 'NYC – Gone, Gone'.

Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band

For me, the highlights are when there is minimal accompaniment and you can hear Oberst's familiar fragile, breaking vocals more clearly. These songs, such as 'Cape Canaveral', the sublime 'Milk Thistle' and 'Lenders in the Temple' sound more honest, emotional and gripping. But it's all good and the crowd clearly adore him. They play for an hour and 40 minutes, including an encore of four songs. Oberst disappears at the end of the main set and the band performs 'Sun Down' penned by Freitas, which is very Dylanesque, and then start a cover of Fred Neil's 'Everybody’s Talkin'' at which point Oberst reappears with a beer in his hand to finish the song. Following that, the audience nods along to the slow and bluesy sound of another cover, this time 'Corinna, Corinna', made famous by Dylan. The band finishes with two completely contrasting songs - the strangely uplifting and energetic 'I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)' and the beautiful, poignant 'Breezy' which Oberst wrote for Sabrina Duim, a harpist who played with Bright Eyes and died tragically young early last year.

This is definitely a Mystic Valley Band show and not a retrospective; we don't get to hear any classic Bright Eyes songs. Oberst is fully engrossed in his new project and seems to have found a modicum of contentment, which is good news, but there may be just a few fans hankering after more angst, edginess and starker, darker tunes.

Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band

Set List:
Eagle on a Pole
Central City
Cape Canaveral
Danny Callahan
Gentleman’s Pact (Smoke Signals)
Lenders Inside the Temple
I Gotta Reason #1
I Gotta Reason #2
NYC – Gone, Gone
Souled Out!!!
Milk Thistle


Sun Down
Everybody's Talkin'
Corinna, Corinna
I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)

article by: Helen O'Sullivan

photos by: Helen O'Sullivan

published: 29/08/2008 16:45


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