August 26, 2011 — Given that this was Conor Oberst’s last tour under the Bright Eyes name and the relative dearth of acts to make their way through London this summer, it seemed only logical to make the trek down Richmond Street. Prior to the show, I was only a casual Bright Eyes fan, but they managed to exceed my expectations and shatter my concept of what a Bright Eyes concert was. Well, if you ignored the legion of teens that were in attendance, which forced me to sip my beer behind a velvet rope. Serving as openers were Toronto’s own purveyors of old-school rock, Zeus.
I had seen Zeus twice before, with only passing interest, but it seems the third time is the charm with them. The members swap instruments and vocals with nearly every song, giving their brand of classic-style rock a great deal of variety. The one-two punch of ‘Greater Times on the Wayside’ and ‘River By the Garden’ was the highlight of their set twice before, and nothing has changed there. By the end of their set, the crowd seemed to have warmed to Zeus as much as I had.
Conor Oberst emerged shortly after, to the expected joy of the crowd, and Bright Eyes opened with ‘Another Travelin’ Song’. The band was touring as a seven-piece, along with a giant drum that the man standing next to me could not get his head around. Despite having a conception of him as a brooding, mopey songwriter type, Oberst, was particularly animated, frequently turning into a whirling dervish on stage, and playfully miming along to his lyrics. Banter was limited, with the most memorable being Oberst claiming that this was his favourite London, and introducing a song with “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” Much of the set list was culled from Bright Eyes’ final album, the surprisingly good The People’s Key, but the biggest response was given to fan favourites like broken-heart anthem ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’, ‘Bowl of Oranges’, and ‘Four Winds’.
The nearly two-hour set was capped with a three-song encore, beginning with the extended intro of Digital Ash in a Digital Urn’s ‘Gold Mine Gutted’. Zeus joined in on percussion for ‘Road to Joy’, and Oberst finished with the final track from The People’s Key, ‘One for You, One for Me’, all the while high-fiving audience members and calling for peace and love, a good deal more joyous than the guy I remembered from high school as a source of sad songs. This monster of folk proved he was worthy of his title that night.
Another Travelin’ Song
Old Soul Song
Bowl of Oranges
Take It Easy (Love Nothing)
Lover I Don’t Have to Love
Falling Out of Love at This Volume
I Believe in Symmetry
The Calendar Hung Itself…
Gold Mine Gutted
Road to Joy (with Zeus)
One for You, One for Me