Having made the most universal — and focused — album of his young career, Bright Eyes leader Conor Oberst is making the bold, and necessary, leap into a clear position of power. For years he has presented Bright Eyes as a cooperative with members who come and go onstage; the notion was that the only reason he gets noticed is that he happens to sing. Disney Hall perf — enhanced by the buoyancy and jubilant quality of his newer material — may well serve as Oberst’s full arrival.
“Cassadaga” (Saddle Creek), which might be the best album we hear all year, taps the timeless side of Americana, the hootin’ ‘n’ hollerin’ of fiddles, woodwinds and guitars, with a pair of femme drummers to give the performance the urgency of a marching band. Oberst, like Ryan Adams and Jeff Tweedy before him, seizes on the sounds of acts that fused together old-timey music and a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility; the Band and the Scottish band the Waterboys were the best at it in their day, and this edition of Bright Eyes reflects those bands at their most raucous while lyrically dancing around issues of life and death.
Two-hour show included a lengthy encore section during which openers Gillian Welch and her guitarist David Rawlings joined in on “Classic Cars” and a fabulous version of “Lua” from the Bright Eyes album “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.” Rawlings, a brilliant guitarist whose sound is old-fashioned yet weirdly modern, gave the band’s sound a nifty otherworldliness, a trait that Oberst succeeds in achieving on the new album. The ballad “Make a Plan to Love Me,” “First Day of My Life” and the upbeat “Four Winds” received particularly powerful perfs.
Band has played a string of L.A. venues — the El Rey, Olympic Auditorium, Wiltern — that bring in wildly different audiences, and Disney Hall attracted a most polite crowd, one that didn’t start to increase the noise level and create a party until the encores.