merge night #1, or, What the Hell Happened to Conor Oberst?

We’re at the Merge Records fest. The shows start at 7pm and go til 2am every morning.
Notable about night #1.

Conor Oberst is looking:
(a) like a fucking rock-out-with-your-cock-out country-inflected rock STAR. Not an indie rock star. Gone is the painfully shy, emo twee boy of the past who sang as if every note was torn from his body. Oberst has fully immersed himself in Mick Jagger’s famous bag of male rock star performance tricks–with not a few more ripped from young angry Johnny Cash.

He strutted and howled and spit and preened and stumbled and sneered and rambled and gesticulated wildly to clarify every punch of the lyrics and banging his head hard hard hard with every chord chord chord. He ripped off Jack White’s wardrobe (absurd black cowboy hat, check–Native American man-jewelry, check). He rocked big stadium Bon Jovi musical transitions that you don’t usually see in a 300 person indie club–the hard switch from one song right into another, cutting out the band for a beat to yowl out a line against the silence.

And I have to say, it was absolutely electrifying. We had been at the Cradle at that point for seven fucking hours. I was feeling pretty done by the time the penultimate band, the Rosebuds, came on–we were going to stay and see Conor do his thing for a minute, and before I knew it, Lauren and I were staring at each other in disbelief and getting drawn into pushing our way into the front of the crowd and shaking our booties and taking pictures with our phone cameras.

Potentially explaining (a), Conor is also looking:
(b) Like he’s doing some serious drugs. He was wasted drunk, but still pretty, um, energetic, up to the last chord, even for the 1/3 of the audience left. It was the final night of a pretty grueling two month tour, but he was noticeably Dracula-paler and unhealthy looking next to every other member of his Mystic River Band (a bunch of matching brunette boys with impressive musical chops who also all look like they’re twelve).

Ah well. I guess LA got to him at some point.

Other things:
Lou Barlow is totally sounding like Cat Stevens doing confessional, and it’s pretty wonderful.

I enjoyed the Magnetic Fields unreservedly and wholeheartedly for the first time ever.

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