i had good reasons to look forward to seeing conor oberst‘s gig at the london palladium on 1st february 2017. his latest album ruminations, released in october 2016, caught me off-guard with its shaky basement sounds, lonesome insomniac vocals, lines like “everything ends / everything has to”, “i’m worn gossamer thin” and “i don’t mind my head when there’s room to dream”, and just a guitar, harmonica, and piano. it was like emotional time-travel: it felt as important to me as fevers & mirrors did when i was a teenager.
so i went into this gig with high hopes and, oh my giddy aunt, i left exuberant. also because of the musicians conor brought along. miwi la lupa, whom conor introduced as his best bud and omaha roommate, hung a cold moon from the ceiling. phoebe bridgers just about killed me singing radiant songs about smoke signals, funerals, and not feeling anything with her rainy day voice.
i am not surprised that, as conor said, omaha labels are arguing who gets to put out her upcoming debut album. the musical respect he expressed for her is mutual – she said she had some friends in the audience whom she would not introduce to conor, for they know how much of a bright eyes fan she was and still is – to prove her point, she covered “bad blood” (and owned it!). miwi accompanied conor throughout, beautifully and affectionately. for a bit, there was a harmonica assistant with a fish bowl. and oh, all the songs. especially “gossamer thin” (in which “read poetry” became “sipping tea”), “counting sheep”, “lenders in the temple”, “you all loved him once” (which conor said was about lennon, jesus, “fill in the fucking blank”), “the ladder song”, and a cover of the replacements’ “here comes a regular” which his brother taught him when he was about 12. and then phoebe joined miwi and conor for “lua” (luckily for you someone caught this and shared it online). they also covered “jack at the asylum” by the felice brothers (whose music makes conor happy, he said, and less embarrassed about being from america*). i nearly had a heart attack it was so lovely to hear these three together.
not only had i gotten what i came for, and been introduced to new favourite songs and musicians, but then conor and miwa also ended on “the big picture” – which i had never heard live – and “at the bottom of everything”. with conor screaming his heart out and all. boy, was i happy. when the lights came on and the canned music set in, it was like being kicked out of the only place you feel at home.
p.s. on march 17, saluations, a companion album to ruminations, will be released. it features full band versions of the ruminations songs and seven additional songs. gillian welch and maria taylor are on it, too!
*at one point, conor apologised for trump and noted that it’s the same story everywhere, racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism all crawling about. although he was inclined to hide under his bed, he said, if we all stand up, “they can’t fuck with us”. and maybe stand up with the kind of lovely community feeling that was evident in all the hand-holding and hugs between the three musicians throughout the night (conor even, if perhaps jokingly, told miwi “holding your hand in vienna meant so much to me” – aw!). and, while conor seemed embarassed by his country, he also said that “it’s where the felice brothers are from” so it can’t be all bad.