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It’s good to hear Conor Oberst happy

Conor-Oberst-@-Fillmore_postPhotos by Mike Rosati // Written by Brooks Rocco //

Conor Oberst with Jonathan Wilson, The Good Life //
The Fillmore – San Francisco
October 4th, 2014 //

“Crank Gillian in my monitor. Guitar and vocals, all the way”, the frontman requested with an impish grin.

With hundreds of songs written and nearly two dozen records tucked under his belt, it would be easy to forgive Conor Oberst were he to appear burnt out from an already bountiful and robust career, a seemingly never-ending touring schedule and a notably difficult year. But during moments like the final All-Star ‘family’ jam at the end of Saturday’s inspiriting show at The Fillmore, punctuated by jubilant appearances by country legend Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and the fantastic Felice Brothers, the singer never seemed more alive.

Buoyed by a band comprised of long-term collaborators along with members of opening act Jonathan Wilson’s own touring ensemble, Oberst deftly led the audience on a scenic journey through some of his best work, both vintage and virginal. Opening with “Hundreds of Ways”, the lead single from his excellent and underrated new record Upside Down Mountain, he enraptured the audience from the beginning with his earnest crooning, smart melodies and a refreshing lack of artifice.

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7148

Perhaps on a high from Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (read our review here), which has immersed the city in an overflowing bubble bath of good vibes (Conor’s Family Band played on Friday), the crowd swayed along to Oberst’s occasionally guarded, but authentic and revealing verses. And indeed, as a well-seasoned artist, the show never seemed to drag or let up, from the sweetness of Bright Eyes’ “Bowl of Oranges” to the glorious highlights of “Desert Island Questionnaire”. This is a thoroughly enlivening rock ‘n’ roll band that knows exactly what it’s doing.

Jonathan Wilson for his part, also knows what he’s doing (having co-produced the aforementioned Upside Down Mountain), though at times seemed much more confident playing as a member of Conor’s band rather than fronting his own. Sporting a backwards ball cap and a scraggly, street-kid trench coat, Wilson with his band seemed less sure of his place in the folk-rock canon. As he experiments with his own style, he shines as a collaborator and producer of the excellent musicians he surrounds himself with, especially on this tour.

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7131

All of which culminated in an exultory trio of encores filled with Hardly Strictly heroes. As Dave Rawlings slithered out masterful, melodious country twang over the John Prine tune “Pretty Good”, Conor could be seen soaking in deeply the sublime voice of Gillian Welch (which, indeed, the sound guy eventually cranked up loud enough) and his good fortune to be sharing the stage not only with legends, but with an audience that has grown along with him to the heights he now visibly enjoys. It’s good to hear Conor Oberst happy.

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7146

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7115

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7100

Conor Oberst @ Fillmore 10-4-14 --7149

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