The newest musical endeavor of Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst, Better Oblivion Community Center, is an amalgam of nostalgia, mystery and newfound bliss. The black and orange cover of their debut self-titled record regards the ten-track album as “ten captivating stories.” These stories were brought to exquisite life during their live show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC on April 4. As promised by the literature on the band’s website, the meeting was a “healing sound bath” in the form of a live concert—no exaggeration.
BOCC opened with “My City” which showcased the gorgeous sounds made when Bridgers’ and Oberst’s voices combine and harmonize to form a powerhouse, swaying the misled notion that their new record is a quiet album. The vocal richness carried into “Big Black Heart” which possesses
Bridgers brought the stories to life every so often, such as when she introduced the song “Forest Lawn,” inspired by the cemetery close to her home in LA. The band also played the leading track, “Dylan Thomas” followed by “Chesapeake.” Afterward, Oberst remarked that “Chesapeake” includes the lyric, “I can’t hardly wait,” a fitting segue-way into a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
A standout track was “Exception to the Rule” in which green lighting flooded the stage as Bridgers and Oberst sat in lawn chairs and relayed a few beach balls into the audience after stating, “We’re taking a little break, is that cool?” It was a fun exception to the rigid sequence of a typical live performance. P.S.—Does this song give anyone else major Digital Ash in a Digital Urn vibes?
For two singer-songwriters who may be considered morose and serious, the humility and carefree nature of Bridgers and Oberst colored their set. Each played solo songs—ranging from Bright Eyes’ “Lime Tree” to Bridgers’ “Funeral.” Each time a non-BOCC song was performed, Oberst would introduce a Bridgers song as if it were his own, and she would do the same for his. Before playing “Funeral” off of Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps, Oberst claimed, “This is the first song where I could feel truly proud of what I wrote.” What followed was a full-band, faster tempo performance of “Funeral” with Oberst covering the majority of vocals. I was almost convinced it was an old Bright Eyes song…almost.
Bridgers did the same during the encore, after an amazing performance of “Scott Street” in which she introduced Oberst’s “Easy/Lucky/Free” as “one of the songs that really gets you through a dark time…art, you know?”
The promised “healing sound bath” hit hard when Bridgers sang the final line of “Easy/Lucky/Free” until it became a scream—“THERE IS NOTHING, THERE IS NOTHING”—much like the recorded version of the 2005 Bright Eyes song.
I was completely enamored by Bridgers singing “Lime Tree” from Bright Eyes’ 2007 album, Cassadaga, amidst a sea of blue and green light. I used to listen to that song as a poetic, moody little teenager upon its release in 2007. The sense of familiar nostalgia mixed with the novelty of an exciting new project from two musical favorites was extremely enjoyable.
There is a true sense of camaraderie between Oberst and Bridgers that is not often picked up on in live shows; a sense of balance between the illustrious career of Oberst and the boldly blooming early career of Bridgers, which together serves as a sort of equalizer for talent and sonic storytelling. Their partnership creates a really special place to exist within the realm of a live show.