BRIGHT EYES and GILLIAN WELCH at Disney Hall, May 6, 2007

“We can't hear your words!” shouted a guy in the crowd just two songs into Bright Eyes' set.

“I'm sorry. I might be slurring,” Conor Oberst mumbled back. “I will try to use better diction for the rest of the show,” he added, carefully annunciating each word.

Really, it wasn't all his fault, though he seemed a bit tired and unenergetic during some of the concert. Disney Hall, acoustically perfect as it is for the L.A. Philharmonic, just may not be the best room for this kind of thing. The sound was a little muddy and overly-dense, but after all, there were at least 12 people playing on stage (a conductor might have helped), including two kick-ass female drummers moving around on three different kits, two cellos, a trumpet, and tons of other instruments laying about that occasionally someone would pick up and play.  

It's not that the Disney Hall people aren't learning how to rock. At last year's all-night rave with The Orb, they supposedly left the house lights on throughout, so that the audience was just left looking at a couple of people standing motionless on stage who were in turn staring down at their laptops.  This time, there were live overhead visuals – ouija boards, food coloring, colored wires and an Etch-A-Sketch – in case any of the 16-year-old girls in the crowd dared to peel their eyes away from the white-suited, black-haired Oberst.

The band’s set focused on songs from his new album Cassadaga, which, not unlike the Philharmonic, is heavy on the strings itself.  Through “Four Winds,” “If the Brakeman Turns my Way,” and “First Day of my Life,” Oberst’s energy built song by song, eventually matching that of his band’s.

Openers Gillian Welch and David Rawlings joined the band for the encore, which had them trading off each other’s songs.  “This is my favorite part of the night,” Oberst said, as he played along and sang on Welch’s track, “Miss Ohio.”  As incredible as Welch and Rawlings are on their own with just the two of them spinning out sad songs, having a dozen musicians backing them up transformed the song from merely excellent to downright epic.

Earlier in the evening, when just Welch and Rawlings stood on stage, the power of Disney Hall really showed through.  Their gorgeous songs, with Rawlings’ spiraling acoustic guitar solos, filled the room like a hypnotic gas. It’s been way too long without a new album from them, but at least one new song, “Throw Me a Rope” suggests they’re working on it.  “Everything is Free” is the best (and only) country acoustic song ever written about the illegal downloading of music, and “Time (The Revelator)” may just be one of the best songs about anything, period.

Welch and Rawlings were back on stage with Bright Eyes at the end of the night for an apocalyptic version of “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” that had everyone running across stage, throwing flowers into the crowd, smashing trumpets, and falling to the floor.  I can’t imagine Frank Gehry or Esa-Pekka Salonen necessarily approving, but by the end of the night, the building seemed none the worse for wear. 

Bright Eyes performing Classic Cars at Disney Hall

Click here for more clips of Bright Eyes' and Gillian Welch's performances

Bright Eyes I Believe in Symmetry Disney Hall

Gillian Welch performing Throw Me a Rope at Disney Hall

Gillian Welch performing Time (The Revelator) at Disney Hall

Bright Eyes performing Four Winds at Disney Hall

Gillian Welch performing Elvis Presley Blues at Disney Hall 

LA Weekly