I have to admit, I was a bit dubious about this show at first. A friend had recalled seeing Bright Eyes at Coachella a few years back, and to his ears, the band sounded less than great at that time. Also, it was at Soma – chances were high that it was going to be overrun by tearful, whiny 16-year-old girls accompanied by their vertically challenged, emo-boyfriends who would cringe to hear them yell, “I love you, Conor!” Maybe I’m just getting old.
But I was pleasantly surprised by both the band’s set and the crowd. There was a fair number of older folks who came out for the show. And even the younger crowd was pretty respectful. I learned that having a photo pass to a show at Soma still means you’re on your own to fight through the crowd to get up to the photo pit. However, I also learned that if you apologize for squeezing past people and explain that you have a photo pass and need to get to the pit, most of the time they are immediately in awe and utterly helpful. Even to the extent of telling the people around them to let you through.
But back to the band’s sound. It was quite a treat to listen to fully orchestrated versions of Bright Eyes’ usually low-fi songs. Some people noted that he didn’t play many of his older songs, but I don’t fault Conor for that. For one, he’s on tour for a new album that was just released. And two, most of his older songs are pretty stripped down, and it takes a lot of time and work to build up an orchestrated version. And the visuals were pretty amazing too, from the band dressed all in white under blacklights, to the flower-draped stage, to the projection screen behind the stage displaying real-time images created by a Conor’s friend back at the soundbooth. And did I mention there were three percussion setups on the stage?
Rosey from SD: Dialed In snagged a photo of the setlist that was much better than mine, taken guerilla-style from the photo pit (what can I say – low lighting means wide-open aperture, which means super shallow depth of field). But according to my notes during the show, there were a few changes. There was another song in between the sped-up version of “First Day of My Life” and “Four Winds,” one which I was unfamiliar with. The snippet of lyric that I managed to write down was “don’t ever buy nothing from a man named Truth.” However, they didn’t finish out this song – as Conor said, it was “a song to stall on.” Then they launched into “Four Winds,” which is a great song, but I can never help thinking that the string melody line sounds like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” What am I doing thinking of that song in May?
They also threw in “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” after “Cleanse Song,” which I was happy about since, with it’s Counting Crows-style chorus, is my favorite song off his new record. He even called his old friend and co-writer Jason out on stage to help him with it. It was quite a moment. After “Cleanse Song,” they skipped “Lime Tree” and jumped right into “I Believe In Symmetry,” which dissolved into a huge rocker of a song. It being about 10:30 at this time, I correctly guessed that this would be their regular set closer. After about a 10 minute encore break, the band came back on stage to play rousing renditions of “Goldmine Gutted,” and “Road to Joy,” before ending their set promptly at 11PM. As everyone filed out of the great concrete heart of Soma, I don’t think anyone would have argued with Conor when he said, “One more time for the best band I’ve ever had.”
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