Before Thursday night, it had been years since I'd seen Bright Eyes (or Conor Oberst in any incarnation) live, thanks mostly to a lack of Florida dates and gigs somehow never coinciding with my jet-setting lifestyle. All I can say - completely without hyperbole - is that it was completely worth the wait.
Okay, that's not all I can say; this is a music blog, after all, and while my prevailing reaction over the course of the evening was an enthusiastic OH GOD YES, I'll try to be a bit more articulate now.
Conor and company were in fine form, fresh from a trip to Disney World and ready to rock the happiest place on earth (House of Blues is located inside Downtown Disney, so the influence of the mouse is largely inescapable). The special relationship that he shares with his fans was evident as he traded banter and told a couple of anecdotes over the course of the evening (seriously, his reputation as a dick is complete bullshit), and the mood carried over into their performance, which was absolutely joyous.
Following the excellent support of indie rockers (and fellow Omaha-dwellers) Cursive, Bright Eyes took the stage to the tune of Denny Brewer's rambling sermon, marking the beginning of "Firewall," the opening number on The People's Key. From there, they launched right into "Jejune Stars," one of my favorite songs on the album and the perfect segue from darkness into light, which was followed by Digital Ash in a Digital Urn's "Goldmine Gutted," establishing the ebb and flow of the gig.
The band rocked songs from every album from A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997, to I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, to Cassadaga. They performed every song to perfection, but standout numbers for me were were old favorites like "Falling Out of Love at This Volume," and "Four Winds," and the newest epic, "Haile Selassie".
All in all, they played 24 of what are arguably their best songs, including an amazing four song encore of "An Attempt To Tip The Scales," "Something Vague," Road to Joy," and finishing splendidly with the last song on The People's Key, "One for You, One for Me".
In a June 2009 issue of Rolling Stone, Oberst announced that he wanted to "retire" the Bright Eyes persona, and that The People's Key would be the band's final album, so I assume (with the sort of melancholy and mild disbelief reserved for situations like this) that I have attended my last Bright Eyes show.
It was every bit as brilliant as my first.