The first time I saw Bright Eyes play, Conor Oberst looked and acted like a kid; he hid behind a mess of scruffy hair and was often unable to fully control his signature warble. He had a skeleton crew of back-up players who functioned just as much to tune his guitar and quite possibly keep him out of trouble as they did to embellish his heavy-handed strumming and entrancing personal dialogues. It’s been a while, and the kid’s grown up.
Motion Sickness, his first live album, is being released on his own idealistic and artist-friendly Team Love imprint, and will only be available to select indie record stores. The recordings included come from the band’s epic tour in support of his I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning LP, a collection of Americana-tinged tunes that struggle with the current state of the world, all the while managing to maintain the intimacy of the bedroom homilies of Oberst’s past. Over the course of 68 shows in 17 countries, the songs morphed and adapted into what ultimately sounds like the creation of a legitimate band. It’s not a single show they’ve captured, but it still flows remarkably well. The cacophony of Wide Awake’s triumphant finale, ‘Road To Joy’ takes on an almost unhinged feel, while the protest diary of ‘Old Soul Song’ captures a world of dynamics only hinted at in the studio. There are a few solo moments, most notably the scathing Bush indictment in ‘When the President Talks To God’, and there are even a few stabs at older numbers (‘Scale’) which showcase the skills of the band’s newest incarnation.
The world Oberst has created is impressive to say the least. His songwriting continues to develop and the comparisons to the mortal gods of the craft, while fun and often appropriate, shouldn’t be a stigma or point of contention after such a successful run. There’s startling energy in each of these performances, and while those involved may no longer be kids, their unabashed excitement for making this music is nothing short of invigorating.