I am always happy to see a concert at the MANN. The acoustics are excellent, the setting is clean and interesting, and it isn’t a hassle to get there. I purchased balcony seats for the concert—I didn’t even know the MANN had a balcony (even as we walked in), the architecture hides it really well, which is pretty cool. Once we got up there, I was in love. The sections were small with only two seat rows—so I did not have to sit next to annoying people. The people in my section were quiet and respectful all night, very good crowd. My only complaint was the heat and there wasn’t much that could be done for that.
Act #1: Dawes
I never heard of Dawes before this show, so as they started their set with a slower song, I was quick to dismiss them and pull out my smart phone. But I started hearing the guitar player (and singer) start to toss in these interesting transitions and that got my attention. As their set continued, they built up the pace and I started to get impressed. The guitarist has a lot of talent and the entire band has a good sound dynamic (and sensibilities). I really liked their set and I want to hear more from them.
Act #2: M. Ward
M. Ward came out a few minutes after Dawes. Ward is a frequent collaborator of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk) and is probably known for his band “She and Him” with Zooey Deschanel. He immediately started into an instrumental piece which was upbeat and established his talent on the guitar. The next 30 minutes were very slow, sad songs that all built off a similar minor chord base and strum pattern. In a small, air-conditioned club this would be something that I could absorb, but in the heat, it just put me to sleep. At the end of the set, he invited Dawes out to back him and it sounded really good. I wish he brought a band with him for the whole set.
I did not expect a rock concert from Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes. Perhaps a few rocked out tunes mixed into a largely acoustic set, but the opposite happened. Oberst came out with firsts swinging leaning heavily on material from his new album and it was… awesome. Instead of putting the crowd to sleep like Ward before him, the band was LOUD. There were two drummers, two keyboard players, a guitarist (not Oberst), and a bass player – this group commanded attention.
All of the songs sounded fleshed out. After the first four, the band settled back into a mini-acoustic set where Conor played familiar tunes like “Four Winds” and “Lua” and then brought the band back out to fire up the crowd again. The tempo felt very intentional which alludes a control over the crowd reactions that is impressive.
I really enjoyed the concert: great crowd, great venue, great seats. I am continually impressed by Oberst’s versatility (acoustic, rock, electronica, and country). Oberst has been called the new Dylan too many times to count, but I think might have a new title to content with: Rock Star.