Bright Eyes change their focus at House of Blues

By Acacia DiCiaccio

Indie band Bright Eyes visited the House of Blues in Boston on Thursday, March 10 with Laura Burhenn’s band, The Mynabirds. Though the musical production of the headliner was spot on, something was off – Bright Eyes, the epitome of angst-filled folk mixed with aching tragedy, only performed two slow songs in their set of 24.

The concert opened with the talented Mynabirds, a new group with a bluesy country, Rilo Kiley-esque sound. The catchy tunes kept fans on their feet while they awaited the main event.

The crowd was filled with fans in their 20s who anticipated the Bright Eyes tunes that shepherded them through their younger years of self-doubt and misunderstanding since the band debuted in 1995. The Bright Eyes sound, dotted with the insecurities of lead singer Conor Oberst, has become an anthem for teens across the world over the last 15 years. What these fans weren’t aware of when they entered the venue, however, was that the show they were attending would carry a very different sort of sound.

Bright Eyes came to fame through Oberst’s melancholy lyrics when he was only 15. With Oberst now over 30-years-old, and Bright Eyes close to retirement, the band is stuck in an awkward balance between Oberst’s juvenile image and the reality of his personal and artistic maturity. The result of this dilemma became a combination of 31-year-old Oberst using unnecessary profanities to display his abhorrence for authority, while nixing the majority of his sad songs in exchange for a more hyped-up rock performance. This confusion in image may have not bothered the fans just looking for a good time, but for some in the crowd, there was a strong disconnect between what built Bright Eyes into an indie staple and what fans got.

Those who desired an intimate connection with the artist and his music at the concert were let down. Most notably, Oberst seldom spoke. While his quietness may have stemmed from an introverted personality, it came off as narcissistic. It was almost as if Oberst knew fans attended for him, and that he performed simply to further his fame.

Oberst took no nonsense, however. When an audience member continually shouted “Free Bird!” he called him out, sarcastically praising him for his originality.

The set list was an interesting selection of their newest album, “The People’s Key,” and older songs from all different eras, even including one track from 1995 titled “Falling Out of Love at This Volume.”

Bright Eyes kept their fans pumping through the marginally upbeat song selection, assisted by Oberst’s electric guitar. However, by the time the band slowed down for a breather, the song “Poison Oak” felt more like a screeching halt than a quiet interlude.

The band played in front of two egg shell-shaped arches that illustrated the silhouette of the trumpet player beautifully. However, most of the colorful lighting and strobes appeared tacky and added to the big-shot rock concert atmosphere, rather than the quiet ambience of a melancholy indie band.

It is not to say that Bright Eyes should be expected to adhere to any particular list of songs. Bright Eyes has been around long enough that they can do just about whatever they please and fans will still love them. But those who came to adore Bright Eyes for their doleful tracks likely felt that something was missing. It was most likely an image choice – Bright Eyes’ attempt to shed the whiny rep. Recent rumors of the band’s demise could mean a well-deserved break for Oberst, who would be able to spend more time on his solo work and side projects (including Monsters of Folk and Desaparecidos). While Oberst’s veins flow with talent and passion, the identity crisis that he experienced at the House of Blues this month proves that all good things must come to an end – or at least change with time.

Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at [email protected]