All words: Travis Andrews
Emma Lazarus is the poet responsible for “The New Colossus,” which you might know if you’ve ever gone on one of those overpriced tourist trap tours to the Statue of Liberty where you would have seen that very play. Some old man, reliving some cinematic grandeur with deep trembling gusto, reciting a few lines from it. “Give me your tired, your poor . Your huddle masses yearning to breathe free.”
What Lazarus was talking about was not a man who looks like a modern day Jesus, sitting on a stage, alone save for a scattering of guitars and key-based instruments. But what could better describe Conor Oberst’s show at the Warner Theatre last night? The answer is nothing, obviously. Otherwise I wouldn’t have posed the question, but opener Daniel Johnston sort of fit that description as well. Though he was more like Moses, offering insight as to what was coming.
Johnston, standing on stage, his haunted mental history obvious in his shaking arm as he sings that beautiful song of hope, of redemption, of some kind of karmic payback in this place. “True love will find you in the end.” Of course, he reminds us there’s a catch, and trust you me, a quick glance around this majestic room realizes that this bunch doesn’t need any reminding that there’s a catch.
He leaves, and the excitement is palpable. An excited man and his girlfriend lean over and begin asking me what songs Conor will play. They’ve driven four hours to be here.
And Mr. Oberst delivers to these masses. The crowd ranges from young and pieced to older and flannel-covered, and he plays a tune for everyone. At one point, he even mentions his parents are in the audience and offers a shout-out to his bother and sister-in-law for having their second baby.
Beginning with “The Big Picture” from Lifted and playing, by my personal count here, a song from every album he’s ever released (and this includes his one-off, four-track recording with Spoon’s Britt Daniel), except for Digital Ash.
And it was beautiful. I’ve seen him play a few times in a few different contexts. I’ve seen him presumably blackout drunk and crawling across the top of a piano before taking a cigarette out of said pianist’s mouth and smoking it himself. “Thanks for the Parliament,” he muttered to the pianist’s chagrin.
Well, things have changed. The boy’s grown up, and he’s become a hell of a man. On stage in a skinny suit with a skinny tie to match, in this ornate theatre. For a guy who made screamy records about girls who were constantly breaking his poor skinny heart and did this in his bedroom, it was a surprisingly professional, well-paced, well-lit, well-played and well-received.
He played for about two hours, his wavery voice still wavering. And I could have sat there, listening to his walls of words for another two.