8/8/08 Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band @ Mercy Lounge, Nashville, Tenn.

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Conor Oberst played to a mostly sold out Mercy Lounge crowd Friday night. Solo for the time being, Oberst has hit the road in support of a self-titled album, channeling “electric” Dylan, the man to whom Oberst has been compared for his ability to represent a generation.Conor Oberst played to a mostly sold out Mercy Lounge crowd Friday night. Solo for the time being, Oberst has hit the road in support of a self-titled album, channeling “electric” Dylan, the man to whom Oberst has been compared for his ability to represent a generation. The backing group now is the Mystic Valley Band, a five-piece (before Oberst wedged himself in the middle) of young New Mexicoans that could just as easily fit their brand of younger Americana to the tunes of Ryan Adams.

Intriguing psych-rock band the Evangelicals opened, who are a touch too emo to owe royalties to fellow Oklahoma deranged dreamers the Flaming Lips. Some 20 minutes after the Evangelicals ended, the lights went low, and The Mystic Valley Band filed out, trailed by Oberst. Downing the remains of a red solo cup, he greeted the crowd disingenuously: “Hello Music City…we’re going to celebrate your city tonight…with some Music.” The promised music was played, and prominent were Oberst’s quirks, namely his eyes and his enunciation of words.

For the first song, you would have thought Oberst was reading the lyrics off the ceiling; his eyes, with lots of sclera, fixated upwards and combined with a wry, deteriorated smile. Growling like a tennis player might as a point wears on her, Oberst shrieks compulsively. His disaffected version of Dylan’s “Corrina, Corrina,” where he screeches the second “Corrina,” comprised all snarls, strain and no heart. Formerly raging against the apathy and indirection of youth (as on Bright Eyes’ Lifted), his current yelps seem like an extension of the Bright Eyes brand to a more adult-ish genre.

An incumbent to the Dylan comparisons, the solo Oberst makes mere reelection music. “Get Well Cards” drives Highway 61 on organ-auto-pilot and “Sausalito” could barely warm a piece of Americana cheese. On “I Don’t Want to Die in the Hospital,” the bed-ridden narrator pleads that someone “help me get my boots on” in order to flee the sterile, macabre confines of an infirmary, panicking like a younger Oberst. But in general, the hackneyed country-western of Conor Oberst presents an inversion of this idea: boots slow you down, especially when too big.

One character from Todd Haynes’ recent Dylan biopic I’m Not There, offers an 11-year old Dylan (then a poser of Woody Guthrie) a piece of advice that is applicable to the 27-year old Oberst: “Live your own time child, sing about your own time.” Albeit a cheesy message, Oberst used to do this; and those were cooler times.

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