Bright Eyes and Herald

by Julian Fenouil and Skye Neulight

The night opened with a performance by Herald, a one-man-and-a-briefcase band with darkly poetic lyrics set against some crazy synth beats. Herald immediately stood out, at least compared to other openers I’ve seen. He walked onto stage by himself, forgoing much introduction while quietly setting down a wooden box and his bottle of water. He had a commanding presence on stage,  moving with a certain intensity and intention that gave weight to everything he did, from singing his songs to sipping his water. His stage presence belied his otherwise unassuming looks/outfit; he looked like Walter White out there in his checked button-up and thick-framed glasses. The sound quality alongside his delivery meant the lyrics were often muddled, but every now and then he’d turn his back to the mic, singing something ominous like “Now give thanks, Boy” in an odd Scottish/Baltimorean accent. I hope to find out more about Herald – he intrigued me independently of his music – but it seems like his online presence is limited to a Bandcamp page with a single song ( My guess is that Bright Eyes’ drummer (who was from Baltimore himself) knew Herald and asked him to perform because I honestly don’t know how else they would have chosen him to open (though I’m glad they did). 

Baltimore has tons of great venues, but we were both very impressed by our first show at Soundstage —by the time Bright Eyes came on, we were comfortably four or five “rows” from the front, with an easy view and sort of intimate closeness to the stage. Conor Oberst came out around 9, his bangs brushed over his eyes, and his Eboy sweater somewhat stained; hard sell for a 42-year-old, but he made it work. Honestly, a clean sweater would have looked weird on him. The band was big, about 8 strong, but what stood out was the sheer number of instruments on stage: trumpet, horn, sax, violin, piano, synth piano, (multiple) drums, weird tappy tech set, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and countless synths, sometimes all at the same time!. Each performer save for the main drummer had at least 2 instruments, and Conor himself alternated between crooning, playing guitar, and playing the keyboard. This gave the songs more energy than the studio versions, especially given that the sound never stopped; even between songs, at least one musician was consistently keeping the sound going, so every song flowed well into each other. Because of this,  they traversed genres super well. Incredible chemistry within the band even beyond initial members Conor Nate and Mike lead to these really energetic, organic-feeling solos and instrumental interludes that ranged from jazz to rock to random synthesizer loops and riffs. They also alternated singers, with one of the backing singers joining Conor center-stage for a few duets – her voice was great. Meanwhile, Conor’s voice was somehow jittery, fresh, disturbed, at the end of its rope and breathless, yet energized — in Road to Joy, he sings “well, I could have been a famous singer if I had someone else’s voice, but failures always sounded better, let’s fuck it up boys, make some noise”. 

As a band, Bright Eyes has always been pretty angsty, with folksy story tale lyrics that tell of the sounds of the Anthropocene, the 405 crumbling when the big one hits, the feeling of protest, sweeping up dreams with a pan and a broom, and limbs that “hang like chandeliers from alcohol and age”.  But ethereal background harmonies and catchy choruses made all the hard feelings palatable and textured in a cool and engaging way. Conor let us in on a song he wrote at fifteen—I forget the name, but it was cool hearing him talk about his formation as a musician and his days growing up in Omaha. The indulgent electric guitar builds in the song seemed very fifteen-year-old of him, yet not a far cry from his new work all these years later. 

He had an amazing stage presence in a very goofy way. The funny little dances – jumpin’ round, miming, shaking his hips – were very endearing. At one point I think he fake died (we couldn’t tell what was happening and then he got off the floor), but he was cool and so comfortable with the audience and enjoying himself. I’d read that a lot of shows on this tour were either train wrecks or straight-up canceled because of his drinking problems, so it was nice to see him perform well and joyfully, even if he was clearly drunk. The crowd picked up on this energy, and I think it helped Conor; he loosened up through the show, especially when a bouquet of flowers was passed to the front of the stage; they closed out with an awesome 4 song encore and a lot of Thank Yous to the crowd.

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