Conor Oberst and his label Saddle Creek had an intriguing idea: Release two albums simultaneously in February and then tour in legs to support the discs separately. First up was the superior acoustic disc “I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning,” which found Oberst — on record and tour — nearing the ranks of Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams as a force in alt-country circles. The electrified “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn,” the less involving of the two discs, is being supported with similar earnestness but fewer rewards.
Oberst’s been tagged, unfortunately, as the leading voice for a young generation of misfits because of his ability to capture pain in song. His message in the “Digital Ash” music was hampered by the unforgiving confines of the former roller derby/wrestling hall. This current edition of Bright Eyes is a noisy one, with two drummers, a cellist, violinist and guitarist fond of tweaking the overall sound toward an overbearing assault.
But they do work well together (Tuesday was the last night of the North American tour) in executing Oberst’s ambitious ideas for strings, trumpet and keyboards. But the cacophony idled texturally, evincing little change from tune to tune. Bright Eyes is still more about promise than the actual delivery of insightful and convincing rock ‘n’ roll.
Concert exploded in the finale, “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” from album “Lifted,” which should have been a springboard to more signifiers of Oberst’s ambition. Concert was only 70 minutes long at the time, and only four songs from “Digital Ash,” including radio semi-hit “Take It Easy (Love Nothing),” had been played; apparently, Bright Eyes’ teen crowd is capable of taking in his message only in short doses.
For an indie artist, Oberst has an extraordinarily high profile, one built up from hype that’s actually been outside his team’s control. As evidenced by the young crowd on hand, he has his faithful onlookers who cheer every tune’s opening bar as well as his obvious between-song patter — “freedom is a misused word,” finding something you believe in is cool, etc.
But while observers are looking for something from him onstage, he, too, appears on a search. It’s not clear what he’s seeking, but once he finds it, maybe the idea of Bright Eyes as visionary will sit more easily with onlookers who have sat through their fair share of strong voices.