A night out with the kids
By Matt Stoulil
I recently attended a Bright Eyes concert at an historic theater just a quick stroll from my 100-year-old urban front porch. The mid-sized venue was sold out for this performance, and one of the local radio stations had their live remote minivan out front. When I drove by the theater earlier in the afternoon, there were kids lined up out front to jockey for position close to the stage when they opened the doors. This made me think, man it's been a few years since I've arrived early to get into a show before the crowd, and who has the time to do this? Young people. Oh, yeah, I could camp out front of a venue BEFORE I grew up and got the day job. Now I'd have to wait until after work to show up.
After some great Mexican food, my companions and I parked the car back at the house and we ventured on foot toward the theater. We caught the last couple of songs from the opener and then the stage crew began to change out the stage set to prepare for Bright Eyes, fronted by Connor Oberst, and the place was packed. The 24-year-old Oberst has become a media darling of late, and gained a lot of attention as the opener for the likes of R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen on last year's "Vote For Change" tour. He has a broad fan base, but being the sensitive, troubled young troubadour, his main constituency seems to be young women, and there were scores of them at the show that night.
We were able to grab decent balcony seats -- seats being the key here. There was a mass of people floating around on the floor, trying to move in on those kids who showed up extra early, or going to grab refreshments. A few years ago I would have been down there in the trenches, trying to get right up front, like I have done previously for bands like U2 in behemoth arenas and many bands in packed clubs. But not that night, I mean, after all, I had to be at work the next day, and I was tired already. I know, sounds pathetic, right?
The Omaha, Nebraska-bred Oberst and Bright Eyes recently released two albums simultaneously: "I'm Wide Awake, Its Morning" and "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn." "Wide Awake" is an organic rock album with folk flavor, and "Digital Ash" is, well, very sonic sounding and synthesized, but it has entrancing moments. Many critics have gone as far as to laud Oberst as a Bob Dylan-caliber composer. He is a highly emotional singer and songwriter who deals with politics, love, neon city lights and the suburban Midwest -- probably because he splits his time between Omaha and Manhattan's Lower East Side. So here he was, back in the Midwest to kick off a tour for "Digital Ash," the louder and less melodic of the two albums. So there I was, in my seat ready to see what this Oberst kid was all about.
Now, I'm not saying I'm old or anything. I'm still sneaking up on 30 and "have the rest of my life ahead of [me]" as many older individuals have imparted to me. But there's just something about being in the presence of hundreds of angst-ridden teenagers brimming with boundless energy wandering the venue's aisles and lobby that would make almost anyone feel old.
To be in your late 20s and feel "old" at a concert can be a difficult thing to deal with. Just when you think you finally have it all figured out and your life is a good mix of hipness and maturity -- well, at least a minimal level of maturity -- you're put in a situation where you look like a "Sir" or a "Mister" to all the teens around you. It can make for an entertaining evening of people watching and reminiscing.
It was great fun to watch the crowd and how they tuned in to the show and the scene around them. They were out to have fun, and on a school night, and boy do I remember being in that position. Those rare school nights out seeing live music were golden, and at an age when you usually feel nothing is your own, the times away from school, your parents and minimum wage labor are special. You are in communion with others to hear an artist who speaks to you and elevates you if for only a brief moment. The music helps you forget your problems, or maybe just helps you vent a little and deal with them.
The concert was not the greatest I've been to; the band battled sound and noise issues all night and countless wandering individuals obstructed my view. But I did not mind, and I had a good time, because after all, it was not too long ago when I was that wandering teenager blocking some "old dude's" view.
(Editor's Note: Bright Eyes made a recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, singing his song: When the President Talks to God.)
Matt Stoulil is an NCR staff member, a bass player and an avid observer of the music world. Get in tune with him at email@example.com.