It feels important to note that Conor Oberst has long hair now, like Adam Sandler-as-Operaman-on-SNL-level length. Ten years ago, when the Omaha-native was being hailed as the Voice of a Generation, it was impossible to find a review or a profile that didn’t mention his, in the words of The New York Times, “hair [flopping] around his head in a black bubble.” A simple Google search for “Oberst hair” brings up 448,000 results. So when he played not as Bright Eyes (or Commander Venus?) at the majestic Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night, but as Conor Oberst (“with special guests”), often only accompanying himself on acoustic or bulky electric guitar, his new Jack White look was surprising to see, though maybe not as much as it should have been.
Nearly a third of the set was made up of songs from his most well-known incarnation Bright Eyes, including crowd pleasers “Classic Cars” and “At the Bottom of Everything,” but he dusted off selections from his other bands too, including the Mystic Valley Band (“Lenders in the Temple”) and Monsters of Folk (“Maps of the World”, sans the other Monsters). He’s come a long way from his “Self-Loathing and Long Bangs: The Conor Oberst Story” days, despite still being able to hit those quivering, frightening notes that thousands of other tortured balladeers have attempted and failed to reproduce over the years.
Was the long hair his way of being able to perform a song from his long-ago past, like “The Big Picture,” while also acknowledging he’s a different man than he was then—less a singular Voice and more of a Leader? Possibly. Either that, or he just liked the way it looked while he sang “Southern State?”
Photos from the show, courtesy photographer Nadia Chaudhury, below: