Our seats were good, yet too far for pictures, orchestra, Isle D, double A (only one is reflective of my bra size). This was my eighteenth time seeing Bright Eyes live; I was not disappointed.
Opening acts are always a treat at a Bright Eyes show / The Felice Brothers
I can think of few other bands that welcome and support new, emerging or underrated talent the way Bright Eyes does. They welcome these rogue originals with open arms.
The Felice Brothers expressed that playing Radio City was quite a bump up from performing in the subway. They thanked Bright Eyes for the experience and gave a very sweet shout out to their grandmother in the audience who was excited to see her grandsons play at the same venue as Frank Sinatra.
The Felice Brothers is a quartet consisting of three brothers and a friend, from Catskills, NY. They tell narrative tales blending Americana with a rusty homegrown sound. Produced by a blend of acoustic guitar, drums, bass, accordion and piano. They played ten songs with three strong and distinct vocalists, sharing the lead while the remaining members sang rough harmonies.
Despite the expansive stage in an overwhelmingly large venue, they connected with the audience and created a down home and intimate staging peppered with theatrics. During “The Ballad of Lou the Welterweight,” James Felice, the accordionist, put hat over heart in tribute to the fallen boxer. When he introduced a song about hardship and depression, his soulful deep vocals were memorable. They ended their set with “Frankie’s Gun” accompanied by Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes on trumpet. A very fitting ending with a full chorus singing / bang bang bang went Frankie’s gun/ he shot me down.
Thurston Moore Personal Vision Realized
In came Thurston Moore and his band of aural angels, playing songs from his new solo release Trees Outside The Academy. Staring at the two acoustic guitars, bass, violin and drums my eyes betrayed my ears. This acoustic band of deception, laid down intricate compositions, replete with constant pulsating drums by Steve Shelley, bass rhythms, double guitar leads (Thurston Moore and Chris Brokaw) and darting violin treatments throughout. Samara Lubelski on violin played a haunting low register rarely segueing into melody.
The scaffolding of instrumentation created a collaboration of the highest order. Every song had this never-ending quality, not like a jam but more like an organic improvisation within the song structure. The last song, “Trees Outside the Academy,” closed this impressive set and highlighted the accomplished musicianship. I closed my eyes and hoped this class act would never end.
This Bright Eyes show had no agenda. This was not a promotional tour but the last night stand of a year long tour. And stand they did. They played a wide variety of the Bright Eyes catalogue with added new arrangements. The collaborative nature of an ever-changing cast of players with the anchoring of Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott create a fresh approach. I appreciate seeing live shows that don’t mimic exactly what is on the recording, and Bright Eyes delivers.
At Radio City the music was loud, but it was grand. Although Conor works very hard at phrasing and pronunciation, not all of the words were audible. The added restraint of coordinating with a vocalist can be tricky, and Bright Eyes did not sacrifice the live feel of the music for the lyrics. While I would have loved to hear every word from Conor, I didn’t feel deprived.
Starting with “Another Traveling Song” from I’m Wide Awake Its Morning Conor came out and took command of the stage. Having seen him over the years terrified, it is wonderful to witness the confidence, maturity and ease with which he can now perform.
I just about flipped to hear “Song to Pass the Time” from Fevers and Mirrors. I have heard many versions of that song. The twangy flavor of the original song was changed considerably with the addition of the trumpet. “Lua” was also another standout with James Felice on accordion and Nate Walcott on flugelhorn, adding depth and distance to the sad tale. “Poison Oak” was moving. “True Blue” was infused with a strong pedal steel guitar and sung with conviction, / I don’t know much about you / but I like you because you’re true blue /.
Only one complaint, I could have done without the Tom Petty cover. It was fun, rollicking and exciting but I would have been happier with an original. The stage festivities grew as The Felice Brothers joined in and the Radio City night lights strobe across the ceiling. The audience rose from their seats to join the celebration.
Bright Eyes ended the four-song encore with a new political power song of intensity and anger about the war and the future of many wars to come. / Nothing left but the cockroaches / in a movie with no sound /. As always, Bright Eyes has words that move, stating truisms like no other, employing all of us to take a hard look in the mirror. I left smiling but felt the pangs of guilt thinking about the state of the world as I walked down Isle D.