Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes)
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:15 PM
Conor Oberst joined his first band at the age of 13 and has been releasing music since 1993. Over the next two plus decades, he’s released cassette-only recordings, split 7-inches, and a dozen albums of uncommon insight, detail, and political awareness with his band Bright Eyes, under his own name, as a member of Desaparecidos, as leader of the The Mystic Valley Band, and with the Monsters of Folk supergroup.
In Fall of 2015, and after more than a decade of living in New York City, Oberst returned to his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, somewhat unexpectedly. Like John Lennon so famously said: “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” After canceling a tour with Desaparecidos due to serious health issues, Oberst returned home to recuperate. The musician was unexpectedly back home at loose ends and faced with some long, cold, claustrophobic winter nights, with nothing really to do. Such conditions were the same as those that contributed to the very early songs he penned in his boyhood bedroom. This resulted in the anxious poetry, heightened self-awareness, and revealing confessionals that catalogued his doubts, demons, and nightmares.
“It wasn’t premeditated at all. I don’t know if you know what Omaha is like in the winter, but it’s just paralyzing. You’re stranded in the house. Every night I was staying up late, making a point to play the new piano I had just bought and watching the snow fall outside the house. Everybody would be asleep and I would just go into this one room, make a fire, and play all night. In November I had a whole pick-up truck full of firewood delivered and I thought, ‘I’m never going to run out of it.’ Before I knew I had gone through half of the firewood and I had five songs. By February I had burned through it all, and I had 15 songs. I had just spent the whole winter making fires and playing music.”
Making and playing music has always been a healing balm for the sometimes troubled musician. And this time it especially seemed important. It was if he was writing himself back to sanity. Back to understanding what is really important and has meaning for him. And in the same kind of immediacy with which the songs were written, Oberst realized he needed to record them right away, in order to capture the kind of raw intensity and rough magic behind them. When Oberst wrote and recorded the songs, with just voice, piano, guitar and harmonica – he intended to ultimately record them with a full band. In the midst of putting together that band - upstate New York's The Felice Brothers plus the legendary drummer Jim Keltner (Neil Young, Jackson Browne, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and many more) - the passionate responses Oberst was getting to those first solo recordings, from friends and colleagues, encouraged him to release the songs as-is, in their original sparse form, released in October 2016 as Ruminations. Pitchfork called it “a record like none other in Oberst’s catalog, stunning for how utterly alone he sounds,” and the UK’s Sunday Times called it, “The rawest album yet from the forever troubled one-time voice of a generation. Political and very, very personal,” saying Oberst is “one of the best songwriters around.”
Meanwhile, Oberst simultaneously moved ahead with his plans to record with the band, heading to the famed Shangri-la Studios in Malibu to record Salutations - co-produced with Keltner and engineered by long-time musical compadre Andy LeMaster. Guest contributions come courtesy of Jim James, Blake Mills, Maria Taylor, M Ward, Gillian Welch, Gus Seyffert, Pearl Charles, Nathaniel Walcott, and Jonathan Wilson.
Salutations includes full band versions of the ten songs from Ruminations, plus seven additional songs, some from an additional session at Five Star Studios in Echo Park in fall 2016. Oberst says of the Salutations sessions: "Jim (Keltner) was really the captain of the ship and the spiritual leader of the project. We leaned heavy on his fifty-plus years of musical insight to get us to where we needed to be. He brought such depth and dignity to the proceedings that made everyone else involved rise to the occasion. It was a true stroke of luck that he got involved when he did.”
Hop Along has had multiple lives. First conceptualized as a freak-folk solo act by Frances Quinlan, it progressed towards a fuller sound with the addition of Mark Quinlan on drums, Tyler Long on bass and Joe Reinhart (Algernon Cadwallader, Dogs on Acid) on guitar. Emerging as one of music’s most unique songwriters, the captivating vignettes Frances has weaved tell vivid stories of desperation and weary awakening. Her powerful voice is a spellbinding entity all it’s own, celebratory and raw, and one that can’t be shaken away.
Their new album, Painted Shut, (out on May 5, 2015 via Saddle Creek) is their 2nd full-length (preceded by Get Disowned in 2012). However, this release marks their first time creating as a full-formed entity, arranging everything as a group. It was co-produced, recorded and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, etc.) in the great cities of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, and incidentally finished in the shortest span of time the band has ever made anything.
Like their debut, Painted Shut is a series of accounts, a procession of fleeting and repeating characters. However, it diverges from its predecessor in its close-up, controlled approach (most of the album features the band recording live), and more focused portraiture. WhereasGet Disowned calls forth a dreamy collage of protagonists in a tone that’s often anthemic and surreal, Painted Shut is a grounded, less merciful image of many struggling adults (and children) in a severe landscape.
Often depicted in Painted Shut are the two lives of legendary (though generally unknown) musicians, Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank, who were plagued with mental illness until their penniless deaths. Included are accounts of more everyday poverty, abuse, greed; and banal, sub-par behavior. Society is unveiled as a structure that, in reality, was most certainly not built with everyone in mind. Clearly this is difficult subject matter. Yet the songs themselves move unencumbered and easily, forming angular pop anti-anthems, at times jubilant as well as irreverent. Somehow, they are not sad songs. There is joy, in the abandon of Frances’ unforgettable voice, in the exulting choruses. One wakes to a sky that is a bright, ageless blue. It’s morning and so clear outside that multitudes of lives can be seen, in focus despite the distance. All of this is viewed through a window sealed with cracked paint that cannot be opened on either side. That is how we must often view the lives of others, especially when it comes to people who have lived and gone from this world. That’s another story.
Conor Oberst has partnered with Plus 1 so that $1 from every ticket sold will go to support Planned Parenthood and their work delivering vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people in the US and worldwide (www.plannedparenthood.org)