Online Music Editor Stephen Ong reviews Better Oblivion Community Centre’s live show
Better Oblivion Community Centre is advertised as a therapeutic, almost cult-like, meeting. The warm voice that tells you this at the beginning and the end of the concert makes this apparent, but it’s really the combined efforts of two fantastic folk musicians – Conor Oberst, formerly of Bright Eyes, and Phoebe Bridgers, one of the best up-and-coming singers today. Their self-titled debut as a duo was released at the start of the year, and though it was an ordinary, albeit depressing, folk rock album, it was clear that Oberst and Bridgers fit together perfectly. I was excited to see how their dynamic would play out in concert, and for two singers who have made their name by writing crushingly sad music, it was one of the most joyful and cathartic concerts I’ve been to.
Singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson was the show’s opening act, and he warned the audience that he would be talking more than playing before he started. Indeed, his banter between songs was lengthy, and he explained that it was his first time properly in England, and that he didn’t really have any upbeat songs. Similarly, his lyrics were humorously self-deprecating, with song titles such as ‘I Just Can’t Fucking Do It Anymore’, yet they were also poignant pieces of storytelling that were Elliot Smith-esque. With his music starting to gain traction and his third album soon to be released, he is one to watch for the future.
it was one of the most joyful and cathartic concerts I’ve been to
Hutson returned to the stage as Better Oblivion Community Centre’s lead guitarist, and the show began the same way as the album, with ‘Didn’t Know What I Was in For’. Oberst and Bridgers sang in unison as the song built up into an explosive outro, giving the song much more life than what was on the studio version. In fact, the band only played three songs acoustically, opting for rockier versions of their songs, while the synths of ‘Exception to the Rule’ were even more intense than on the studio recording. After playing nearly every song from their album, Oberst and Bridgers led the band into a cover of The Replacements’ ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’, and spent second half of the show covering each other’s songs, with Bridgers doing justice to the anthemic ‘Devil Town’, ‘Easy/Lucky/Free’, and a wonderful rendition of ‘Lua’. Meanwhile, Oberst played a punk version of ‘Funeral’ and led the crowd into a singalong of ‘Scott Street’. Like the album, the show fittingly ended with the haunting ‘Dominos’, completing the emotional journey of loneliness and reflection that both singers so often sing about.
Better Oblivion Community Centre’s live show is much more than the album brought to life with sprinklings of fan favourite Bright Eyes and Phoebe Bridgers songs. It’s like the band is taking you on their journey, and is every bit as therapeutic as advertised. There’s nothing quite like watching Oberst and Bridgers sing and scream their hearts out about loneliness, knowing it will all get better someday.