Bright Eyes – Hammersmith Apollo, London, 30 August 2022 live review

Bright Eyes, Hammersmith Apollo, 30 August 2022

Bright Eyes are finally getting to tour their 2020 ‘Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was’ album and arrived in England’s capital city ahead of a headline slot at the prestigious End of the Road festival.

Following stellar support from Penelope Isles, the Nebraska band appeared on stage at the Apollo – complete with occasional string section – and Conor Oberst stalked across the stage in signature style during opener ‘Dance and Sing’ before unveiling some previously unseen Jagger-esque dance moves. Conor took a seat to play the keys for ‘Lifted’ favourite ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’ – a song that inevitably drew a rapturous ovation from the crowd – and followed this with ‘An Attempt to Tip the Scales’ from ‘Fevers and Mirrors’. Later on, he’d joke about developing a time machine to take the audience back to 1990s Nebraska but immediately after this was an amped-up ‘Jejune Stars’ and powerful version of ‘Old Soul Song (for the New World Order)’.

The setlist spanned the band’s entire career, with rare outings for ‘Falling Out of Love at This Volume’ (a song written when Conor was just 15) and ‘Neely O’Hara’, complete with a rambling introduction about what a shitty book and film Valley of the Dolls is. As the set progressed, Conor’s introductions became ever longer and disjointed but there were positive messages in them – a heartfelt dedication to anyone who lost loved ones during their pandemic, a tribute to his ex-wife and best friend Corina, a name drop of how Janeane Garofalo inspired the title of ‘No One Would Riot for Less’ and accounts of lessons learned from his tumultuous childhood: ‘We’re all the fucking same, we’re all just homo sapiens’ and, as the world burns and planet dies how we should look out for those who don’t have as much as us: ‘They’re not at a fucking concert’.

The band were genuinely thrilled that people had held on to their tickets for two years – ‘I wouldn’t wait two years to watch me sing these songs’ – and were tight throughout, ensuring the likes of ‘Shell Games’ and ‘I Believe in Symmetry’ sounded huge and evocative, while the encore also featured a slightly reworked version of ‘First Day of My Life’, a track that Conor had long shied away from but has now decided to enjoy again. At one point, he turned to Nate Walcott and asked if Bright Eyes is a band that only plays love songs now (before going back on brand to say how they all end in tragedy) before finishing the set with the ‘Streets of Philadelphia’-esque ‘One for You, One for Me’ – one song that is full of warmth and positivity.

As Bright Eyes have grown, so has their sound and this tour finds a band more settled than ever embracing their back catalogue and enjoying the privilege of being on stage again – all while Conor keeps them on their toes by delivering unexpected and meandering monologues.

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