Bright Eyes, Mandella Hall, Belfast, 8th November 2002
A promising gig, an acclaimed line-up of bands, at a very cheap price, began poorly with Azure Ray. When you are the first band on, in a room full of inebriated students on a Friday night, it is, perhaps, not wise to start with a few slow, meandering and frankly dull songs. They picked up a bit with a few more interesting and melodic songs and, as they departed, I was left with a more favourable impression than the start of their set. Perhaps they should take a closer look at the running order of their set.
The Good Life provided the second section of second-class music. Vocals sounding like Robert Smith, but not quite as incisive. Guitars sounding like Pavement, but not quite as arousing. Songs sounding like a typical pub-rock band, but not quite as bad. They typified average. A few of the quiet longer songs did help raise them a bit, but they still remained firmly in the "Thursday night pub-rock-band" bracket.
And so it was time for the main act. When just 14 years old, Connor Oberst played in cult indie band Commander Venus. After two albums, the band ceased their musical partnership, but they did go on to create the American indie label Saddle Creek. Now recording under the name Bright Eyes and having released several highly acclaimed albums, he has become quite a popular cult artist. Rumours of arrogance and tortured genius have always followed him, but this just adds to his appeal. And, indeed, when he takes to the stage alone with just an electric guitar, it is clear to see why he has built up such a reputation.
Sounding like a young Bob Dylan, he strummed his way through the opening three minutes. After this positive start, his backup band (made up of members of Azure Ray & The Good Life) took to the stage. This is when it started to go downhill. Although there were some sound difficulties, which were obviously causing great irritation, Connor just looked as if he could not be bothered playing. Like he was doing us a great favour by being on stage in front of us. With practically nothing said between songs, he strummed and thrashed his way through the mellow and the wild highlights of his career. But it just did not work. The vocals appeared lazy or needlessly brash, the guitars seemed out of tune and impassionate. It just seemed that nothing was going right.
Unfortunately, the evening went from bad to worse. A small gaggle of slightly inebriated punters began various chants and shouting band names (including a clown mask wearing "rock" posse!). Understandably, Bright Eyes took offence at this and I am most definitely not condoning their adolescent actions. However, as he has been playing gigs for half of his life, Connor should by now know how to handle this. And so, when he spat into the crowd and stomped off stage, he had the look of a spoilt child who didn't win 'pass-the-parcel' at his birthday party! After 10 minutes of confusion, the lights finally came on and it was apparent there would be no more music tonight.
And so everyone left, feeling deflated, disappointed and ever so slightly angry (at certain sections of the crowd AND Bright Eyes) that a Friday night had been spoiled. Promoters take note: if you book a band into a students union bar, on a Friday night and slap an incredibly low £4.50 toll on it, don't expect everyone in the crowd to be well behaved. A smaller more secluded venue, on a different night and with a little bit of participation with the crowd, and this could have been so special.