Conor Oberst and his band performed at the Pub Station in Billings, MT, on Tuesday.
The group is working their way through an intensive worldwide tour, serving tracks from Mr. Oberst’s new album, Salutations, along with material dating back 15 years to early Bright Eyes (his first band).
Once the prodigal prince and heartthrob of the indy-emo movement of the early 2000s, now a folk poet whose name comes up in conversations about Bob Dylan, Conor Oberst has evolved in big steps along the way. I first saw him play in Missoula in 2007, at the peak of the Bright Eyes years, then again in 2009 as he led the Mystic Valley Band at the Wilma Theater. In 2017, he’s all folk.
Oberst’s visit to Billings this year was surprisingly intimate, as only around 250 people gathered in the Pub Station’s ballroom.
A flock of women, now in their late 20s and early 30s, is ever-present at all of his shows, and they made up the bulk of his Billings audience. Bob Dylan comparisons must be bringing new interest, though; I saw many older-generation fans I have never seen before.
The band never missed a note, and kept a good pace.
They were all business, with very little stage banter aside from a rant slamming Donald Trump for the moves he made on immigration the same day, and a nod to Montana’s fishing culture as the violin player mentioned he had fished near Absarokee (which he could not pronounce). Oberst did not spend time with fans after the show, as he was known to do on prior visits. He was sharp, at least fairly sober, and focused on the road ahead.
The band puts all of their energy and attention on their gigs, and it shows: they are excellent performers and they have many more places to play this year.
Conor Oberst was never an overnight success, beginning as a cult hero and only touching his toes in the mainstream from time to time. He’s a hard-working musician who continues to evolve while engaging fans on long and frequent tours. He has an uncanny ability to blend personal emotion with social or political struggles through his lyrics—a talent only getting better in his latest albums.
His poetry is dark, he’s got his demons, and he’s thus real, raw, relatable and refreshing. His melodies are all the more savory in the crazy world of 2017.