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Bright Eyes too good to remain a cult act

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Phil Spector may be on trial for murder in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, but his “Wall of Sound” was alive and well Sunday night just blocks away at the Walt Disney Concert Hall thanks to indie sensation Bright Eyes.

The ensemble, fronted by singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, put on an ambitious and intricately orchestrated set that proved that it’s just too good to remain a cult act even if the thought of mass appeal might leave it feeling slightly uncomfortable. Midway through the band’s 90-minute set, Oberst admitted that the ornate, Frank Gehry-designed concert hall was “a strange place” for his band to play. Given its indie-rock pedigree, that might be true, but you wouldn’t have known it from the fully realized performance that Oberst and his 11-person band put on.

Now 27, Oberst has continually evolved as a recording artist over the years, earning critical raves for his wildly ambitious albums. During this show, he proved that his talent as a performer has evolved as well.

With his long, stringy black hair, Oberst struck a slight resemblance to another one of rock’s leading lights, Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs. Oberst has seemingly taken a cue from White, whose brilliant use of the red color scheme sets the tone for the White Stripes’ live set. On Sunday, Oberst turned to white, literally. He and his entire band were decked out in white as was the stage setup -- right down to the coiled guitar cords -- with the exception of strategically placed flower arrangements.

Yet whereas the White Stripes perform with a stage full of instruments used by only two musicians, Oberst came fully loaded with reinforcements, including a string quartet, horns and two female drummers, including former Sleater-Kinney member Janet Weiss.

Drawing heavily from the recently released Saddle Creek album “Cassadaga,” Oberst and company performed with a power only hinted on the album. The band’s two other permanent members -- multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis and pianist/trumpet player Nate Walcott -- provided the musical color as Oberst acted as ringmaster, strutting across the stage when he wasn’t propped up in front of the microphone singing his confessional lyrics with his eyes raised toward the heavens.

Highlights included the wistful Americana of “If the Brakeman Turns My Way,” with Oberst on piano and Mogis on pedal steel, and the beautifully orchestrated “Make a Plan to Love Me,” accented with sweet female backing vocals, strings and horns.

For the encore, Oberst invited support act Gillian Welch and David Rawlings to join the troupe onstage, climaxing with a celebratory, show-stopping take of “Road to Joy.” Walcott leapt from on top of his keyboard and smashed his trumpet to the ground, while Oberst threw flowers at the crowd. It may have been approaching midnight, but at that moment -- as Oberst put it -- everyone in the hall was “wide awake.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter