BRIGHT EYES + CocoRosie @ Spectrum

By Mikey B - The Lonesome Stranger - 01/22/2005


6:45 in the pm on Saturday night, I busted my ass to catch the 211 to get downtown. A few days earlier, I was ecstatic to be going to see Bright Eyes at the Spectrum. My spirits were still high, even though the cold was a motherfucker. This time, I didn’t wear my regular concert attire, which by the way usually consists of my black Converse High Tops, a various rock concert T-shirt, and my Saran Wrap leather jacket… ohhh noo… tonight, it was all about layering.

    Underneath my Saran Wrap leather jacket was a hoodie…
    Under the hoodie was my Cure T-shirt…
    Under the t-shirt was a long-sleeved undergarment…

Underneath that, was a heart that was yearning for closure and yada yada yadda… all that bullshit. I had seen Bright Eyes earlier this year at Indio, California’s Coachella Festival which featured the likes of The Cure, The Pixies and Radiohead among others. Although they put on an impressive show, it lacked the personal appeal of, say, a show in a small venue with 1,500 people huddled together for warmth, enjoying some good tunes. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what kind of audience a band like Bright Eyes might attract. I thought I’d be surrounded by doe-eyed teenagers with store-bought used clothes… y’know, those kids are always at shows. They slick their hair to the side, and usually wear scarves… even when it’s warm outside. But no, there was a good buzz for Bright Eyes. For once, I didn’t feel like the oldest person at the show, next to some kid’s parents. It was nice to see the overall audience being mostly from Generation X, Y, and a few from Z. There were a few prosti-tots here and there, but I wasn’t really counting. Now, to get to the music… ahhh yesss.

There’s a first for everything and that night, I actually decided to come to a show earlier enough to see the opening acts (after all, I am writing a review… RIGHT?). Anyways, this band Tilly and the Wall (Ed’s note: previously reviewed here) were supposed to open, but they got snowed in in Toronto. I can lie and tell you that I’ve heard of them before, but I haven’t. I’ve never been the kind of guy to namedrop bands I don’t even know (ELECTRIC FRANKENSTEIN!) just for indie rock cred.

So the first thing I saw under the twinkly lights of the Spectrum was a gentleman doing some sort of spoken word performance on the stage. He was speaking, and rhyming, and boring as all hell. I really didn’t know what was going on. Who was this guy? Did he just wander onstage? Later I realized that he was part of the band CocoRosie which was opening. I’ll try to focus squarely on the positive here: the spoken word guy (whose name escapes me) provided some impressive beat-boxing, as well as basslines with only his microphone. I think that’s about it. Really didn’t care much for Rosie. I would’ve enjoyed them a lot more had I listened to their CD, or if I had been high while tapping a bongo and reciting poetry. The two female singers of the band sounded like Fran Drescher and Macy Gray speaking in Tongues. Mix in some slide-whistles, some avant-garde art slide shows, some whistling solos and that pretty much sums up their performance in my eyes. Whistling solos should never be attempted unless you’re in a band called The Scorpions (jerks…). Their set was pretty painful.

Thankfully Bright Eyes was set to come on stage within around a half-hour. Now, although I’ve seen them before, I was still surprised with the amount of people in the band. Whenever you hear of Bright Eyes or you read about ‘em, you usually see a picture of a seemingly malnourished Conor Oberst about to cry. SURPRISE! There ARE other members in Bright Eyes, six of them! It is with that entire group of musicians that Bright Eyes offers up insightful melancholic folk rock tunes. Because Oberst’s vocals sound so emotionally fragile, you keep getting caught off-guard when you hear songs with a more upbeat tempo such as "At The Bottom Of Everything", "Loose Leaves" or "Another Traveling Song". The narrative taking place in these songs has reminded many critics of Bob Dylan, which might be saying a lot. I can see why there is a comparison, but I don’t think many people are going to be comparing Fevers & Mirrors to Blonde On Blonde 20 years from now. If I were to compare them to another band from the same decade and genre, it would have to be Canada’s own folk-punkers, the Weakerthans.

Personal highlights of the the show would have to be when they played one of my personal favorite songs, "Bowl Of Oranges" which they dubbed as an old song (the album came out in 02’). It received the biggest applause of the night until the encore came on, and they played "When The President Talks To God", a harsh critique of the Bush presidency. Each line of the song seemed better and more memorable than the last more cynical line.

    "When the President talks to God, I wonder which one plays the better cop
    We should find some jobs. The ghetto's broke
    No, they're lazy, George, I say we don't, just give 'em more liquor stores and dirty coke
    That's what God recommends"

All in all, Bright Eyes put on a terrific show. I, myself, would’ve liked to hear a few more solo acoustic songs. After all, that’s what I had first heard when I started listening to them two years ago. Songs like "If Winter Ends" and "I’ve Been Eating For You" are the kind of songs that’ll give you chills so high up your spine that you’ll have to jump out a window. Fine, that last comment makes no sense, so just understand what great songs they are. The song "Poison Oak" did satisfy my need for acoustic tearjerking goodness, but several people I talked to were left wondering why they didn’t play one of their bigger hits "Lover I Don’t Have To Love". Whatever, it’s not one of my faves, so I don’t really care.

Asides from that and a few technical glitches with the microphones early on, the "Conor Oberst Seven" (formerly known as Bright Eyes) left most of the audience going home satisfied from a great evening of music.

[Tune in every Tuesday 12pm – 2pm to The Lonesome Stranger]