Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst


I’ve always been intrigued by records that have a story behind them. When songwriting maverick Conor Oberst was advised to cancel the rest of a tour due to ill health back in 2015, he retreated to his home in Nebraska and out of boredom ended up writing a full length. After spending a mere 48 hours in the studio armed with only a guitar, piano and harmonica, he emerged with his 7th solo album Ruminations. As expected, the record is painfully honest and stripped back making you feel like you’re sat in the room with him. So, what better way to celebrate the release of said record but with a series of intimate acoustic performances.

We are here at one of my favourite venues in Manchester, the Albert Hall. Although it can pack in a fair few people, there is a certain intimacy to this venue and it’s so pretty looking that it acts as the perfect location for tonight’s show.

Conor strolls on stage alongside tonight’s opening support Miwi La Lupa, who accompanies Conor tonight on guitar and backing vocals. Conor quickly warms up his harmonica with a stage hand sat right in front of his piano and sits and washes his harmonicas throughout the performance, which I find quite an unusual site, but hey, I guess they won’t clean themselves! He launches into the sprightly piano driven opener of his latest record and I am immediately suckered in with his voice. I’ve always loved the fragility of Conor’s voice but tonight I realise just how heartbreaking and iconic it is. To be honest, it looks like Conor has just rolled out of bed with his thick black hair ruffled and pointing in various angles. Along with his battered leather jacket it’s fair to say that he plays the role of the tortured soul very well.

Tonight, we get mainly tracks off this new record and you can see why it was so well received upon its release late last year. The songs are melodically very simple and beautiful but it’s the words and the delivery of these words that take us into the head of the songwriter to bring some of his most personal thoughts to date. Many will know Conor’s previous project Bright Eyes who were the kings of emo-folk in the late 90’s to mid 00’s, and it’s clear to see why people have latched onto him as a songwriter. He still writes with a lot of gut wrenching emotion and just knows how to tap into your brain and make you think about where he’s coming from. It’s quite a gift really.

Conor’s in-between chatter tonight is on point throughout. He talks about the current state of his home country and how it’s important that everyone sticks together and looks after each other, which is a touching sentiment. He also jests with the crowd to talk about the show on social media as much as possible: “you know how much I fucking love content”, he says with a wry smile. It shows the multitude of Conor’s personality, he may write sad songs but he has a lot of hope and wit inside him which seems infectious this evening.

Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst

To the delight of many Bright Eyes fans in the room, Conor plays us a select few tunes from their prolific back catalogue. Highlights for me are the tracks from my favourite and arguably their career best record, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. The song ‘Lua’ is as beautiful as the day I first heard it and with support act Phoebe Bridges providing a verse in her gorgeously smooth voice, it takes the track to even more lavish heights. It does seem that Conor and Phoebe have a real chemistry on stage, whether it’s off stage too I’m not sure, but their frail yet harmonious vocals work so well together and she acts as a great addition to the final few tunes in the set. Let’s not forget that Miwi La Lupa is a solid accompaniment to Conor throughout the night providing bass grooves and sultry backing vocals.

It’s great to see that after a good few decades of playing music, Oberst still has this burning desire in him. His performances are so heart swellingly honest as he stamps his foot and closes his eyes like he’s reliving the moment he wrote that exact line. In short, tonight was spellbinding and cements Oberst as the voice of his generation and may more to come.

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Benjamin Forrester

I joined the Silent Radio family near the very start of my move to Manchester in 2012 and I'm still having the best time! During my stay here I've been in two noisy bands, had a not so noisy solo project, made a zine, started a blog and started a radio show. It's been productive to say the least and it's all been intersperse with a shit load of gig going and beer drinking. I would love it if you followed me on twitter @dr_brainless for excitable tweets about playing, watching and living new music.