“I know it’s kind of a weird show with very long, slow songs,” said Conor Oberst just before ending his headlining set at The Egg last week with “Lime Tree,” a rather long, slow song about loss – couched in melancholy nature imagery.
“Sometimes you gotta get really bored to know you’re having fun, right?” he added, only partially joking. He had a bit of a point; after nearly 20 songs that were similar in tempo – strummed on guitar by Oberst as he sat hunched on a chair center-stage – a slight ennui had set in.
It didn’t help that before the show a rumor had spread in the women’s bathroom line that three members of the Felice Brothers were in the house, leading to anticipation of a rousing onstage Felice Brothers-Oberst jam that never materialized.
But for the most part, the sold-out crowd in The Egg’s smaller Swyer Theatre seemed thrilled for the intimate performance, which kept the spotlight on Oberst’s gift for writing lyrics that are by turns clever and often quite poetic, in songs that strike a chord with their frankness and confessional nature.
Oberst’s self-described “associate” Ben Brodin – a multi-instrumentalist from the singer-songwriter’s hometown of Omaha, Nebraska – hopped around the stage from vibraphone to guitar to piano as Oberst played a set that drew mostly from his career in indie-rock band Bright Eyes.
“I’ve Been Eating (For You)” painted a portrait of neurosis on the part of the appetite-deprived narrator, while using a clever sports metaphor to rue the promiscuity of a former flame (“But now you’re more of a basketball/Boys just pass you around”).
The countrified “Classic Cars” depicted a failed attempt by Oberst to live in Los Angeles, while the narrator of ‘Ten Women,” from a recording with his Mystic Valley Band, lamented an enduring if conflicted passion for an old lover. He prefaced “Soon You Will Be Leaving Your Man” with a story about his brother’s successful wooing of an already committed woman, and the college town of Athens, Georgia, inspired the catchy “Southern State.”
Oberst showcased two new and not-yet-recorded songs – with the (possibly working) titles of “You Are Your Moms” and “Kick.” The first was a well-phrased and rather touching song seemingly about the birth of a sibling; the latter a tune that referenced “people who want to live in the past, in some golden age they’ve never had.”
He finally left his chair to play piano on “Ladder Song” and “Breezy,” and then closed with encores of “First Day of My Life” and the fan-requested “Waste of Paint,” songs that drew the biggest cheers of the night.
“My friends used to joke that I was the female Conor, because when I started out I had the same haircut and wore cowboy snap shirts,” joked Sharon Van Etten during her charming opening set.
The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter got her own much-deserved showcase at Hudson’s Club Helsinki on Sunday night, along with her backing band. At The Egg, Van Etten brought along only multi-instrumentalist Heather Woods Broderick, who added layers of back-up vocals.
Strumming a fire-red electric guitar, Van Etten showcased some of the songs from her latest album, “Tramp,” one of the musical highlights of 2012 so far – including “Give Out,” a great tune rife with romantic fatalism (“You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city; You’re why I’ll need to leave”). “I Fold,” from her 2010 recording “Because I Was in Love,” captured the ambivalence of living for a time in her parents’ basement, and the Texas-penned “Tornado” had a languid country twang.
SHARON VAN ETTEN SETLIST
Have You Seen
All I Can
CONOR OBERST SETLIST
The Big Picture
Ahead of the Curve
I’ve Been Eating (For You)
Lenders in the Temple
At the Bottom of Everything
Soon You Will Be Leaving Your Man
You Are Your Moms
Map of the World
First Day of My Life
Waste of Paint