Bright Eyes / Kevin Devine
Sept. 23, 2004
The National Lawyers Guild is a kick-ass organization. Remember those people in the green hats during the RNC protests, who were monitoring how cops treated everybody? Yeah, that was them. Now they’re working on legal defense for arrested protesters. You should support this group.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Conor Oberst’s. He’s way hotter and famouser than I am, and he played a benefit show for the NLG last night, which I was lucky enough to score tickets to before it sold out. (Many desperate, sad-eyed kids were not so lucky, and thus stood begging outside the venue.) I attended the show with my friend [NAME WITHHELD FOR LEGAL REASONS], who was arrested during the August 29th United For Peace & Justice rally, and I wore an anti-Bush t-shirt. “Hey! I like Bush!” some doofus yelled at me, pointing at my chest. “Then why are you here?” I replied, gesturing towards the poster of Bush with the word LIAR emblazoned across the top that was taped to the curtain behind the stage.
We arrived just as Kevin Devine’s set began. I remembered seeing his shitty hardcore band Miracle of ’86 open for Conor’s side project Desaparecidos at this very same venue years ago, and was therefore ready to bolt in anticipation of his suckiness. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover not only that Devine isn’t a bad solo acoustic singer/songwriter, but that Miracle of ’86 are breaking up soon. He pretty much sounded just like Conor, with the whole sob-stuck-in-throat vocal thing going on and the alternately gentle and intense strumming technique. He played a bunch of protest songs, including one about “making out with your girlfriend but then not being able to because you can’t stop thinking about how the world’s going to end” or something, as well as a cover of “I Figured You Out,” a song Elliott Smith wrote for Mary Lou Lord to sing.
Conor introduced a representative of the NLG, who made a brief speech thanking us all for coming (which was kind of unnecessary, given that everyone there, including myself, would travel to the ends of the earth, or even Jersey City, to see Conor play.) Then Conor brought out the strangest collection of people since the first incarnation of the Foo Fighters: Craig Wedren from Shudder to Think on guitar and backing vocals, Brad Vander Ark from the Verve Pipe (looking exactly like Billy Idol) on bass, Jim White of Dirty Three on drums, and some old, hairy, bespectacled dude on keyboards. WHAT THE FUCK? Something tells me this was a one-off lineup. But they actually sounded great, ripping through favorites like “Trees Get Wheeled Away,” “An Attempt to Tip the Scales,” “Something Vague” (with Wedren duetting with Conor), “The Big Picture” and “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved).” During “An Attempt…” the crowd started singing and clapping along, but Conor abruptly stopped the song and told everyone to quit it, saying that it made him feel like Dashboard Confessional. Ooh, diss! I smell beef! Chris Carrabba, the ball’s in your court.
They also played quite a few new songs, all of which seemed to deal with politics or living in New York City or both. And, as I often do when at a Bright Eyes show where Conor plays new material, I found myself thinking, “This is the best stuff he’s ever written.” It’s totally true—the double album due in January is going to break hearts and heads and ear canals, if these songs are any indication. There was one childlike recitation about living in a blue house with a blue car and a blue dog and eating blue food, etc., etc… in a blue state (get it?) There was another one with a shufflin’ Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two rhythm about last winter’s big march against the Iraq war, as well as a Krautrock-y reworking of “Ode to Joy” called “Road to Joy” about…well, you know.
Conor took a break and let Craig Wedren perform two songs solo. I thought “Gee, if I’d wanted this, I would have paid to see his crappy new electro band Baby play,” but, like with Kevin Devine, I was pleasantly surprised. Wedren played “Day Ditty” and “Red House,” two amazing old Shudder to Think songs that just floored everybody, including Conor, who sat on stage grinning and singing along.
As Craig Wedren said, “The upside of living in a godawful political climate is shows like this.”