Bright Eyes venerable front man Conor Oberst displayed two sides of his polarizing personality during his band’s two-hour performance at the Boulder Theater on Tuesday. The perpetually-choked up singer seemed equal parts veteran rocker and troubled teen — commanding the stage while brushing aside his effeminate hair between songs.
Selections from the band’s newest output, “The People’s Key,” charged hard and tight — songs like “Jejune Stars” and “Shell Game” knocking the audience back on its feet. The six-piece touring version of the band was anchored by multi-instrumentalist and Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, who created several memorable solos on electric guitar, pedal steel, dobro and mandolin. Still, without a doubt, this was Oberst’s stage and he traversed it accordingly.
And the audience ate it up — almost too much.
Insensitive hoots, hollers, yelps and screeching variations of “CONNNNNORRRRRRR!!!” ruined otherwise tender moments during quieter songs like “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now,” “First Day of My Life” and the set-closing “Ladder Song.” It was a crowd primarily of early-20-somethings that seemed to be re-living its high school years from the early 2000s with nostalgia for a former youth icon, rather than seeing Oberst for the 31-year-old he has become.
Then again, when the band returned for a dragging encore — Oberst in a goofy, oversized hat he had purchased on the Pearl Street Mall that afternoon (and drink in hand) — his veteran status felt compromised. Though that might not be an entirely bad thing, as hearing overly earnest songs like “Landlocked Blues” from an elder performer would seem out of context.
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.