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Concert Reviews, Music

Concert Review: Conor Oberst & Cold Specks Haunt Toronto’s Massey Hall With Intimate Performances

By: Alex Lee –

Conor Oberst at Massey Hall. December 8th, 2012. (Photo: Alex Lee/Aesthetic Magazine)

Conor Oberst at Massey Hall. December 8th, 2012. (Photo: Alex Lee/Aesthetic Magazine)

There were no loud moments in Conor Oberst’s intimate, one-hour show last night at the historic Massey Hall in Toronto. The Bright Eyes frontman embraced a minimal, bittersweet atmosphere that catered to lovers of heartbreaking poetry and a setlist that brimmed with Oberst’s collection of indie-pop-meets-folk. Visually, the stage was practically empty, the only thing being as close to remarkable being a classic baby-grand piano, sleek and shiny admits the overtly dim lighting

Oberst sat on his stool, appearing chic and collected in a black-blazer-and-pants attire. Other than the occasional blurb pertaining to explaining some of his songs, he was a man of few words, nonchalantly sipping his Coca-Cola as he took a moment to ready one song after another. His singing, however, is the polar opposite. Oberst belted out his words almost as if he was whispering them to a long-lost friend. Behind his smooth, hazy voice, there was an evident pain, but also genuine humor, warmth and a bit of reminiscence as well. The stories he unfolded through his songs weren’t solicitously direct about anything though. He simply talked the talk through his kaleidoscope of sounds about virtually anything that grazes past his mind.

Show opener Cold Specks, who was recently named as a short-list nominee for the 2012 Polaris Prize for I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, drew inspiration from Southern gospel, only redressed in rich, neo-soul flavours. Sonically, her style constantly wavered between gothic sensibilities and acoustic-driven rocks numbers, but the London-based Canadian singer effortlessly formulated her own shtick to make her ambiguous sound work wonders. Hightlights from her set included “Blank Maps” and “Elephant Head,” but it was her performance of closer “Old Stepstone” where she marooned her microphone and guitar and provided a fiercely initmate a cappella performance. Her stage antics are much akin to Oberst, requiring no backing band to bring her songs into full play. With only her guitar’s beautiful tone enveloping each and every track, Cold Specks’ quiet yet inexplicably loud-volumed setlist made for an excellent lead-in to Oberst’s performance.

There is not a moment of ingenuity in Oberst’s songs. From earlier cuts like the puppy-eyed Bright Eyes hit “First Day of My Life” to the hedonist-folk-anthem “Breezy,” each song stepped out of lyrical artifice, seeming more like honest recountings of past mistakes, loves and memories that was made hauntingly beautiful by the contemplative sensibilities of Oberst’s sound. Even with his serene image endlessly intact, it was quite amusing to see him getting up in the middle of “Laura Laurent,” reaching deep into his pockets to throw dollar bills over the crowd. This was just a song moments after he performed “You Are Your Mother’s Child,” a song depicting a parent watching their child grow up that made various attendees shed tears.

The night went through Oberst’s vast layers of his unique folk-driven sound. From Bright Eyes songs to his own solo projects, the singer was able to showcase his catalogue of seemingly endless hits. The show concluded with an exhaustively electrified performance of “Waste of Paint,” fulfilling the audience’s yearning for poetic lyrical play and Oberst’s beautiful acoustic-driven performance.



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