the rolling thunder review, 2007

bright eyes at town hall
may 31, 2007

I think I have reached the conclusion that my current perception of my own personal rock ennui is not based on the rock, but the performance thereof. The standing onstage, making noise, playing the songs, applause, encore, applause. Standing in front of the stage at the club with a beer in your hand. Standing in front your seat in the arena or theater. I know. The art form was Good Enough for the canon, but I’d argue that the canon is itself always trying to redefine: Townshend smashed guitars to change the energy. Punk changed the canon (and now is the canon).

I ponder all of this when trying to talk about the recent 7-night Bright Eyes stand at Town Hall. I think that people just didn’t know what to think of it, and didn’t know that that was okay. That some of it would be successful and some of it less so, that maybe Conor himself was bored with what is canon for Bright Eyes. Let me get a different kind of band. Let me get a big band that can make a big sound, or any kind of sound that I want it to. Let me get great musicians to come along. Let me get Janet Weiss to play drums. Wait, let me have TWO drummers. Let’s all wear white, because we constantly wear black.

In essence: let’s try to make a different noise than the one I have always made. I don’t know if it’s going to work or work all the time but I’m going to try. He could have kept on going with what he has always done and still sold out Town Hall seven nights in a row.

And I went through the comparisons in my head, was it Greendale or was it Stop Making Sense or was it the Seeger Sessions? And in the end I realized it was closest in my mind to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, which was also uneven and imperfect at times and ethereal and cosmic at others. I like Conor Oberst, a lot. I think he’s immensely talented. I don’t think he’s the second coming, though, so my expectations are a lot lower than a lot of other people’s, it would seem.

05-31-07_1930.jpg I saw Steve Earle walking up to Town Hall (talking on his Blackberry, no less) as I arrived yesterday, so the special guest thing was blown for me. I know others were expecting Springsteen and others expecting Stipe, and given that last night was the only night I could really go, given work and baseball conflicts, it is likely that those will happen tonight. Have fun. I thought it was genuine and touching and for those reasons, the segment worked.

I loved the Joey Light Show (for lack of a better term) . It took me a little bit to realize it was live and then I wasn’t sure, and then I just loved it for its joy and its fun and its childlike simplicity.

< flame on > I have a personal shortcoming in that although I fully appreciate the talent of Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings (they are ridiculously, incredibly talented), I cannot stand to watch them perform live. I liked the integration of David into the show, but I felt that the encore crawled to a anticlimactical halt with them. < flame off >

We had a long discussion on the way home about two things: Janet Weiss and the incredibly high level of idiocy in the screaming crowd.

I said that Janet Weiss is my favorite modern drummer since Matt Cameron. Not to say that Matt’s still not a favorite, but I just love Janet. I could not have seen her physically on that stage and I would have said, “Hey, is Janet Weiss up there?” because her sound is distinctive. I love her power and her talent and her presence. And yes, I love that it’s a girl drummer on my list.

As for the idiots in the crowd, that the boyfriend termed “Dave (as in Matthews) -level bad,” I think it has to do with the lack of comfort and not knowing what to do (that, and people have no manners, cannot handle their drink, and don’t get out enough). They weren’t in a club, they weren’t in an arena, they were in this theater and they couldn’t handle quiet or the lack of traditional rock cliches, so they yelled the stupidest idiocy I have probably ever witnessed. I will not dignify them by repeating any of it here.

Finally, I think they should have sold a limited number of seven-day passes and told the people who bought them it was a grab bag of seating – some days you’ll be down front, others in the back, another in the balcony – hell, that would be a great deal, and people would have gone for it. Hell, I would have thought about it.

Conor should do this again. Except – not exactly this. More musicians should try to go out on a limb and do the extra work to make these things happen. It’s in the space between certainty and uncertainty that the magic can – will – happen.