Friday Cheers hosted the first of two Virginia dates for former Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst and Brooklyn indie rockers Big Thief. Richmond came out in full force for Oberst, who last visited the river city in 2011.
It’s fitting that a band like Big Thief, lead by the delicate voice and strong strumming of Adrienne Lenker, would support Conor Oberst on the majority of his summer tour.
Both artists share a keen knack for songwriting, and while Oberst’s discography boasts the catalogue of Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk and numerous other acts, Lenker is on an early track to carry the torch as one of the most prolific songwriters of our time despite only two full-length albums under her belt.
And damn if those chops weren’t on display.
Big Thief opened the night around 6:30, with the warm heat of the evening sun shedding proverbial and literal light on the bare, confessional songwriting of Lenker and co.
Starting off with a handful of songs from their critically acclaimed debut album Masterpiece, the set picked up during a song off their sophomore release, Capacity, coming out this Friday.
Lenker told the story of a car crash as the rhythm guitar bounced with the drums, dissonant and airy guitar riffs taking the otherwise sweet sounding tune into another, mysterious dimension. “Shark Smile” pulled the crowd in and kept them entranced.
The band continued with a mix of new and old material, but the set’s standout by far was “Real Love” off of Masterpiece.
The song began as an unassuming love song with sweet notes, quickly taking a turn as the lyrics moved from the sweet to the violent: “having your lip split/having your face hit/by the one who loves you.”
Through the chorus, Lenker defines real love–it’s a “heart attack,” she says, something that blackens and collapses your lungs.
The duality the song creates, between the sweet vocals that turn sour, and the docile tone of the guitar that turn wild, highlights the duality inherent in love. Lenker showed her true grit during this performance, adding to her guitar solo while proving her force as a leader.
If you could peel your eyes from Lenker, the person they would fall to was the lead guitarist Buck Meek. Like a bird of paradise attracting his mate, Meek’s head bobbed with the beat as if on some invisible ball joint no one else possesses.
The crowd on Brown’s Island tripled, if not quadrupled, in the time between when Big Thief began and when Oberst started.
With Goatocado in our bellies and beer from Bell’s Brewery softening our emotional resolve, the crowd was ready for the main event.
All donned with sun glasses, Conor Oberst and his accompanying performers, (many belonging folk rock band The Felice Brothers), took the stage, jumping in with “Afterthought.” He quickly called back to longtime fans with a rousing performance of “Four Winds” immediately after.
True to the stripped down sound he’s carved out in recent eyars, Oberst called from his harmonica with determination as his band cut through a diverse set of tracks including standout performances from his new LP, Salutations, a fleshed-out reimagining of his wintry solo album Ruminations.
Old fans cheered along to selections from his solo records, Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk. His rendition of “Cape Canaveral,” an early song in his solo discography, particularly roused the crowd.
Oberst was minimally anecdotal when sharing themes of the songs, many about the relationship between brothers, but his personality as a performer was well established in his movements and attitude.
When eager attendees yelled favorites from deep in his discography, Oberst responded warmly while admitting that “somebody would need to print out a lyric sheet” if he were to jump off the set list into uncharted territory.
By the end of the night emotions were high as he closed the set with “Train Underwater” and “Napalm,” again striking that perfect balance between playing to his older and newer fans.
Whatever side of Oberst you were hoping to hear that night, he made sure everyone left happy as the crowd trailed back up the hill to the rest of their weekend.
Check out photos from the show by Ashley Travis below: