Conor Oberst Takes His Family to the Zoo

Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater 7/28/19
Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater - photo by Laura Buhman

It hasn’t been long since Minnesota has seen Conor Oberst in some form, but it’s been nearly two years since a proper solo show has rolled through town. Fortunately, Oberst graced the Weesner Family Amphitheater on Sunday night as one of his eleven solo shows this summer.

Joanna Sternberg

New York-based songwriter Joanna Sternberg opened the show. Sternberg is fresh off the release of their new album on Oberst’s label, Team Love, and it was the final night of their first-ever tour.

There is something sweet about seeing the last night of a tour; especially a debut tour. It seems like artists are most relaxed on the last night; letting go of doubt and just having fun with the music. This was no different, even in a downpour. Sternberg took it all in stride and even giggled while telling stories between songs and declaring that the rain was their own fault.

Joanna Sternberg at Weesner Family Amphitheater
Joanna Sternberg at Weesner Family Amphitheater – photo by Laura Buhman

They were sitting confidently in the center of the stage with a guitar in hand. The songs were a folky journey through feelings about being different. A highlight was the gentle ode to loving yourself, “I’ve Got Me”. Sternberg bloomed during the charming half-hour set.

While the set was short, it wasn’t too short for Sternberg to create a bond with the audience. The claps and cheers grew louder after each song, and by the end, people were whistling and screaming. The soft and folky set was a great way to kick off the evening.

Conor Oberst

Conor Oberst appeared on stage with his four-piece band to a sea of ponchos. The heaviest of the rain was starting to slow and everyone seemed relieved, albeit a little exhausted. Everyone perked up as Oberst played Bright Eyes rarities “I Won’t Ever Be Happy Again” (which came across a lot cheerier than it sounds like it would) and “Trees Get Wheeled Away”.

Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater 7/28/19
Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater – photo by Laura Buhman

“Hundreds of Ways” met a rocky start, but Oberst had the sense to start it over and get it right. Small subtleties in lyrics and musicality are sometimes telling of Oberst’s headspace. When he switched the lyrics from “I hope I am forgotten when I die” to “I hope I am forgiven when I die” it was felt by the audience.

This short tour was packed with songs that would please many die-hard fans. Hearing old Bright Eyes rarities was a treat for fans who have been with Oberst over the last few decades. There was plenty to enjoy for more casual fans as well. Songs like “Time Forgot” and “Bowl of Oranges” filled the set with joyful familiarity. Light pops of synthesizer, trumpet, and crescendoing drums gave them new life.

Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater 7/28/19
Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater – photo by Laura Buhman

Oberst took time to talk between songs. The band laughed and nodded along as he went on to describe the tour: “This is a family band situation. We are all wearing overalls, no one is allowed to order entres, it’s all shared plates…” The band is Matt Focht on drums, Stefanie Drootin on bass, MiWi La Lupa on guitar, and Patrick Newbery on keys.

“Blue Angels Air Show” was ushered into the setlist by a strong showing of distaste for the current administration. Oberst talked about children in cages, tax on french wine, and Trump “only being friends with dictators” in a vicious rant that was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.

“This is a song about the good old days when you could watch planes fly around and feel good about it”

The set finished with “Till St. Dymphna Kicks Us Out”. It’s a song about being with your friends at a place where you feel at home — much like what it seems like it is for the band to be on stage at the end of this short but strong tour.

Oberst and Co. made the crowd work for the encore. The standing ovation lasted several minutes. The fans were patient to sit through the rain, and they weren’t going to let them go without a few more songs. They screamed and clapped through the entire break, and when the band finally got back to the stage it was clear they felt the love.

Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater 7/28/19
Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater – photo by Laura Buhman

A cover of Waylon Jennings’ “If You See Me Getting Smaller” opened the encore. It was so warm and special. Vocals were shared between Miwi La Lupa and Oberst. The pair have been friends for many years, even living together back in Omaha in the past.

Oberst talked about his “salt of the earth” mother Nancy before the next song. She is a strong believer in fate. While he doesn’t agree with the ideals of fate, he dedicated “If the Brakeman Turns My Way” to her.

“There’s zero right with the world, but the fact that you’re all here means so much to us. This is for my mom, Nancy.”

The encore ended with a fiery version of “Napalm” featuring Joanna Sternberg on piano. The band hit full force with this addition, and fans couldn’t help dancing in their spots. Newbery’s keys sweltered until the moment the song ended. Oberst graciously bowed and exited the stage.

Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater 7/28/19
Conor Oberst at Weesner Family Amphitheater – photo by Laura Buhman

This tour felt like Oberst was clearing the pipes after some time away with Better Oblivion Community Center. He seemed at home with his “family band” and by the end of the night, they were absolutely on fire.

The love they shared for each other on stage was the takeaway for the evening. Each band member seemed inspired and grateful as they walked off the stage. As the crowd exited the amphitheater I couldn’t help but get excited about what all of this energy will do to inspire whatever comes next for Oberst.

Laura Buhman
Author: Laura Buhman

Written by Laura Buhman

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