BRIGHT EYES: MOTION SICKNESS: LIVE RECORDINGS (2005)
1) At The Bottom Of Everything; 2) We Are Nowhere And It’s Now; 3) Old Soul Song; 4) Make War (short version); 5) Make War (long version); 6) Scale; 7) Landlocked Blues; 8) Method Acting; 9) Train Under Water; 10) When The President Talks To God; 11) Road To Joy; 12) Mushaboom; 13) True Blue; 14) Southern State; 15) The Biggest Lie.
A live album from Conor Oberst should not necessarily be unlistenable. After all, when playing before a real audience, he's got some options — for instance, be picky about his own track selection, be inventive in rearranging formerly dull material, be unpredictable in the selection of covers, and, overall, try and be less «stuck up» than he is in the studio. How can one safely tell that he is not going to do and be all that prior to actually listening to the record? Perhaps Conor Oberst on stage is a completely different person. Perhaps he plays thrash metal guitar or something.
Of course, the track listing is a little suspicious. Although he had released two albums early that year, only the critically acclaimed Wide Awake is represented (and how — with six out of ten numbers getting the honors); Digital Ash is completely ignored, either because Conor didn't feel comfortable about translating the tape loops and digital beats into live reproductions, or because Robert Christgau, who once lovingly called Oberst «the poster boy of the American Agony Association», was in the audience. (I'd rather bet on the latter.) Then there's a smaller bunch of songs from the equally acclaimed Lifted, a newly written anti-presidential rant, a cover of Feist, and a cover of Elliott Smith. Everything properly soulful, acoustic, and, for the most part, neo-countryish without any serious reservations.
Alas, my individual «special» feelings about these tracks are mostly limited to disappointments (and getting «disappointed» in something Bright Eyes-related is a big disappointment indeed). On ʽLandlocked Bluesʼ, there is no Emmylou Harris; prepare to endure a thoroughly solo performance from the unhappiest man on the planet. The instrumental jam sections on ʽTrain Under Waterʼ are reduced to a cacophonous mess, with no traces of the sharp, well-rehearsed guitar solos of the original. ʽWhen The President Talks To Godʼ is an atrocious bullshit rant that probably earned George W. Bush more supporters than enemies — tuneless, toneless, overwrought, with a mechanical heart on the sleeve pumping gallons of fake blood into the audience. (I used to think that no one could beat Ani DiFranco in the «Worst Anti-Establishment Rant From A Supposedly Intelligent Singer-Songwriter» game, but I'm not so sure any more). And the covers are deadly boring, although this should not discourage anyone from checking out Elliott Smith, Oberst's spiritual guru, who must have done many a spin in his grave over the past decade.
On the positive side... there's not much, really. The songs, good or bad, generally stick to the original arrangements; there is even solid brass support from Nate Walcott on trumpet, who helps build up the appropriate rucus on ʽRoad To Joyʼ and elsewhere. There's a couple extra numbers that aren't available anywhere else, as far as I'm aware, but they are nothing special (big surprise). Well... maybe the most positive thing about it all is that it could have been even worse. At least there's no ʽWaste Of Paintʼ here, even if there might definitely be a «waste of plastic». Thumbs... nah, what do I really care.