Better Oblivion Community Center Gathers at First Avenue

Better Oblivion Community Center at First Avenue
Better Oblivion Community Center - photo by Laura Buhman

Better Oblivion Community Center performed in Minneapolis last night on their largely sold out US Meetings 2019 tour. The show was originally scheduled for Fine Line but sold out so quickly that it had to be moved to First Avenue shortly after tickets were released.

Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos) and Phoebe Bridgers (boygenius) quietly teased their new collaboration in some creative ways. Mysterious cult-like pamphlets arrived in the mailboxes of fans, and park benches advertised hotline numbers to call. The duo finally launched their project Better Oblivion Community Center with a live performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert followed by a full album release.

One has to wonder if the idea for a cult-like aesthetic for the band began at the 2018 Eaux Claires fest. Bridgers and frequent collaborator Christian Lee Hutson had joked about the idea of starting a cult throughout the festival. Hutson was listed in the pamphlet as “Reverand Christian Lee Hutson”. Coincidence? Probably not.

Christian Lee Hutson at First Avenue
Christian Lee Hutson – photo by Laura Buhman

Hutson himself took the stage first to perform an aggressively mellow acoustic set. He poked fun at himself about how “loudly” he was playing and seemed at home on the stage where Motörhead once played – something that he mentioned a lot. His songs were bookended with banter that kept the crowd engaged. Most notably before diving into “Let’s Get The Old Band Back Together,” where he cracked jokes about his gearhead friends.

Lala Lala at First Avenue
Lala Lala – photo by Laura Buhman

Next up was Chicago’s Lala Lala. They were just through Minneapolis earlier this year and have made a pretty big splash on the indie scene. They have scored an opening slot on Death Cab for Cutie’s summer tour once they’ve wrapped the 15+ dates with BOCC.

Singer Lillie West mixes her hardships into lyrics and blends them with smooth synth-pop jams that have an unexpected bite. She pulls double duty on synth and guitar. Smooth bass and thundering drums round out the sound. The crowd was enthusiastic and didn’t hold back from screaming their praises at West throughout the night. The energy kicked up even higher as the band played a cover of the Perfume Genius “Slip Away.”

Better Oblivion Community Center at First Avenue
Better Oblivion Community Center – photo by Laura Buhman

The screen rose to the sounds of recorded voicemails with glowing reviews of the Better Oblivion Community Center. Oberst and Bridgers stood with guitars in hand and surrounded by their band; they were ready to begin the meeting. Their stage was set in front of a large backdrop showing a community center style building with the words “It will end in tears” in scratchy lighting above the entrance. Gorgeous beams of colorful light rose and fell around them like a beacon to come inside.

Better Oblivion Community Center at First Avenue
Better Oblivion Community Center – photo by Laura Buhman

Audience members were ecstatic as they played through songs off the debut album. Songs like “Sleepwalkin’,” “Service Road,” and “Exception to the Rule” were highlights. The set wasn’t without extra surprises. Appropriately, midway through the set they covered The Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait.” It’s been covered throughout the tour, but it felt right to hear it performed within the walls of First Avenue. It was fast and vicious. Just the way we like our Mats in Minneapolis.

Better Oblivion Community Center at First Avenue
Better Oblivion Community Center – photo by Laura Buhman

It felt like there were two “teams” making up the audience; Team Phoebe and Team Conor. Of course, this doesn’t describe everyone, but it was an interesting dynamic nonetheless. Better Oblivion did a great job at bridging any gaps by changing leads when songs from one of their respective projects came up in the setlist. “Lua” was led by Bridgers and Oberst took the lead on”Funeral.” Each of them has claimed these songs as favorites before Better Oblivion became a band.

The encore brought three more songs to the setlist. First was a version of Bridgers’ song “Scott Street” which was a clear crowd favorite. Next, a cover of the Bright Eyes song “Easy/Lucky/Free.” It slowly built and droned into an explosion of lights and sound. Bridgers frantically screamed the closing lyrics. “Dominos” closed out with staggering energy. The band made their exit and the crowd was united and stunned.

Better Oblivion Community Center at First Avenue
Better Oblivion Community Center – photo by Laura Buhman

Better Oblivion Community Center brought a show that was intimate and meaningful to those who were lucky enough to get tickets. The project seems to highlight some of the best qualities of Oberst and Bridgers. Both seemed loose and free playing these new songs. The energy of their mutual admiration for each other as artists felt like an extra presence in the band.

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