Concert review: Better Oblivion Community Center at The Grey Eagle
Early and often during Phoebe Bridgers’ and Conor Oberst’s Asheville debut as Better Oblivion Community Center on Friday, April 5, scattered members of the capacity crowd at The Grey Eagle shouted out, “Shallow!”
These paying customers’ exclamations weren’t commentaries on the setlist selections by any means, but a request to hear a cover of the Oscar-winning song from A Star Is Born that led off the band’s encore at its April 1 — “April Fool’s” (?) — show at Brooklyn Steel, videos of which quickly went quasi-viral.
Though the tune wasn’t played during subsequent shows in Washington, DC, and Carrboro, NC, its absence didn’t stop fans from holding out for a reprise in Asheville. And while one of indie rock’s most promising young stars and its 39-year-old crown prince who continues to richen his already impressive body of work with new, diverse creative endeavors kept loyal attendees guessing about its inclusion, their impeccable stage presence and clear fondness for one another admirably echoed that of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper and kept audience investment high.
Buoyed by concertgoers’ audible joy of seeing the vocalists/songwriters/guitarists shred and sing side by side, Bridgers and Oberst performed songs from their excellent self-titled album, a surprise release back in January. Showcasing the collection’s range of tempos, the duo and their three-piece backing band got fans peacefully swaying to the Oberst-led waltz “Forest Lawn” — which sounds both like a vintage Bright Eyes song and wholly new — then pepped them up with the synth-friendly, vacation-mentioning “Exception to the Rule,” complete with sitting in folding chairs and launching beach balls into the crowd.
With opening act Christian Lee Hutson solidly laying down most of the album’s creative lead guitar and synth melodies, leaving the rhythm parts to Bridgers and Oberst, the pair mixed in a few picks from Bridgers’ 2017 solo album, Stranger in the Alps, including their charming duet “Would You Rather” and Oberst handing vocal duties on her “Scott Street,” with a late assist from a talented audience member.
Also on tap were a few Bright Eyes’ notables, including a stunning take on “Lime Tree” with Bridgers ably handling the lead, plus a charming cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” — and yet the pleas for “Shallow” keep, er, flooding in.
While the suggestions didn’t lead to action, there was little else about the evening with which to find fault. The group’s surprising choice to play such a small venue — and at a reasonable price — when it almost certainly would have sold out The Orange Peel and possibly warranted Thomas Wolfe Auditorium consideration felt like a gift to listeners, one that fellow experienced artists would be welcome to emulate in the near future.
In tandem with the gifted musicians, crucial to the success of the overall experience was The Grey Eagle’s audio team. Home to consistently well-mixed instrumentation, often at the cost of decipherable vocals, the venue’s professional squad recognized the magnitude of the evening and brought its “A” game to the set’s overall sound, showering adoring patrons with balanced sonic waves and assuring a memorable night.