Jim James solo live at the Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA, October 15, 2004

"An evening of solo & collaborative performances featuring
 Bright Eyes, Jim James (of My Morning Jacket) & M. Ward"

The Daily Californian

Zellerbach Hall Trickles with Tears in Triplicate

by Michael Harkin
Thursday, October 21, 2004

The prospect of collaboration between distinguished musicians is intriguing, as the outcome always seems to either exceed expectations or completely disappoint. Friday night at Zellerbach Hall, billed by promoters as "an evening of solo and collaborative performances" between Bright Eyes, M. Ward, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, held considerable potential for a brilliant cross-pollination of artistic visions, and, thankfully, it delivered on that promise.

After most of the audience had trickled in, the pale blue and green curtain flew upwards to reveal a simple, unadorned stage set-up: a green cushioned chair, a stool, a few microphones, some small amplifiers, two keyboards, and a few guitar and instrument stands. As the stage was uncovered, M. Ward walked steadily and assertively, back and forth, across the stage, while his deft hands brought forth a hypnotic folk instrumental passage to start the show. Matt Ward, a singer-songwriter steeped somewhat in the folk tradition, demonstrated a clear affinity for solo performance. His vaguely abrasive vocals and lyrics beautifully complemented his guitar-playing style, which shifted between atmospheric picking and near-violent strumming.

Jim James, singer and guitarist from southern-fried alternative rock band My Morning Jacket, followed with a solo set. James has a gorgeous, resonant voice and an easygoing stage presence that left no room for worries about how well he would perform without a backing band. His performance translated much of his work with My Morning Jacket into focused solo ballads and pieces accentuated by his stage partners’ playing: his song "Golden" in the group setting was a particular highlight of the evening.

The audience made it obvious that Bright Eyes – namely, singer and multi-instrumentalist Conor Oberst – was the evening’s main attraction. His entrance, along with that of Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, elicited the most cheers from the audience. Oberst’s pale, spidery countenance and his shaky persona partly account for his awkward yet alluring image as a singer-songwriter and performer. Although the rather formal, sit-down atmosphere of Zellerbach Hall seemingly beckons quiet from the audience, Oberst still faced repeated song requests and pleas for attention from individual audience members.

Oberst came across as remarkably sincere in his angst-charged folk-pop. One’s focus was immediately drawn to his lyrics, as the accompaniment to his warble is oftentimes quite minimal. This particular concert setting was such that only his own voice, guitar, and instrumental additions by Mogis (pedal steel, keyboards, and resonator guitar) were what made up this particular incarnation of Bright Eyes, a revolving collective at the center of which is Mr. Oberst.

The collaborations themselves were quite stunning. Each of the three artists would contribute instrumental parts to each other’s songs – bass, keyboards, and backing vocals – and each had a chance to revel in their respective styles. They seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s presence, and they jokingly referred to their early days in the 1970s as "the Monsters of Folk," giving humorous background information prior to laying down tracks together.

Much of Bright Eyes’ set consisted of new material – they are set to release two new albums on the same day in January 2005, one entitled "I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning" and the other, "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn." The newer songs, with titles like "Lua" and "We Are Nowhere and It’s Now," seemed to reveal a greater degree of humor and self-deprecation than can be found on his previous work, and his lyrical mastery was still evident – "It’s getting kind of cold I think we’ll have to walk / We keep waving at the taxis they keep turning their lights off"

Fresh off a stint as a headlining artist on the "Vote for Change" tour, a series of tours through key swing states in the upcoming presidential election of popular artists that, according to the MoveOn PAC’s website, are "fighting for a government that is open, rational, just and progressive"—i.e. a tour promoting Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Conor Oberst inevitably waxed political when the opportunity arose: "If you have any scrap of decency, go out and vote November 2nd for John Kerry."

As all three left the stage after over two-and-a-half hours of performance, the show’s cadence was a pleasant one: molasses-slow country-rock goodness.

My Morning Jacket Live 2004