Conor Oberst was everyone’s favorite sad boy in high school. High school ended (praise Jesus!), but Conor Oberst has not stopped making music. He played a packed show at the Vic last Saturday night with the support of the Felice Brothers while on tour promoting his 2017 solo album Salutations. Salutations is a longer, louder, more fleshed out version of his 2016 record Ruminations. The critical consensus seems to be that Ruminations, the more stripped down, vulnerable and emotionally ragged album, is Oberst at his best. The fuller sounding, folk-rock Salutations is a bit more bland. You could extend this opinion to the tours for each album, and while I probably would have rather seen Oberst play playing mostly solo with maybe one backing musician instead of a full band, I still enjoyed his rounder folk rock sound on Saturday night.
After 20+ years of performing, it seems like Oberst can pull off playing whatever version of his songs he wishes. That being said, he was incredibly attentive to the crowd. He played a two hour set with eight Bright Eyes songs. A duet of “Lua” with opening act Phoebe Bridgers and a solo performance of No One is Gonna Change hit softer more intimate beats. A woman in front of me started crying quietly to herself when he sang “Lua.” But his country songs like “Afterthought” and the poppy “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out” kept a steady tempo to the evening and got the crowd moving.
Oberst played with a consistency and an attention to detail that was really impressive. Despite a brief diatribe on Donald Trump (And really who can begrudge him for it? If I was feeling emotional and had access to a mic and crowd of people, I’d probably do the same.), he kept the mood and the pace of the show upbeat. Oberst made a tight show at the Vic feel intimate, and that’s a testament to his genuineness and cogency as a performer.
Now can I talk about Phoebe Bridgers, Oberst’s opening act? She’s toured with Julien Baker who was the opener for Oberst’s last tour, and she has a similar sound. She’s a bit more goth and her lyrics have a little more story to them though. Bridgers played six songs, all of which will be on her debut album coming out September 22nd. When she belted out the climactic verse of Georgia she knocked the breath out of me for a minute. Motion Sickness and Smoke Signals were stand-outs as well. She sang one Bright Eyes song, “Bad Blood,” with a sweetness and grace that rivaled Oberst’s original. I cannot wait till she comes to Chicago next, hopefully as a headliner.