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LIVE REPORT: Conor Oberst
James Skinner , September 5th, 2014 09:00

James Skinner joins Conor Oberst on the penultimate leg of his European tour, and there's grins all round. Photo by Erin Hanson

"These guys have kept me alive the last few months," says Conor Oberst of Dawes, his backing band and support act, near the end of tonight's show at the Apolo. It could be a veiled reference to the torrid time he's endured of late, or simply a means of communicating the obvious affection between himself and the band, echoing the sentiments expressed by their singer Taylor Goldsmith earlier in the evening. 

Either way, the final show of their European tour (save a festival date they'll bow out at tomorrow) is a blast, and the warmth shared by the players onstage is supplemented by a musical connection honed to steely perfection after two lengthy stints on the road.

As a result of the less savoury items Oberst has had to deal with this year, the fact that he has also released one of his strongest albums to date has been somewhat overlooked. The Jonathan Wilson-assisted Upside Down Mountain is a fine piece of work; an outward-looking LP that balances introspection with a very real, tangible sense of empathy, all set against the kind of warm, immediate arrangements that sound both fresh and vital as they do informed by years gone by.

Dawes, as well as opening the night with a solid, enjoyable set, bring its songs to life with relish. The introductory salvo of 'Time Forgot' and 'Zigzagging Toward The Light' sound fantastic - and are devoured by a notably more invested crowd than the last one I witnessed in this venue - but it's in songs like the moody 'Artifact #1' and 'Enola Gay' where they really come alive, gracing them a kind of bombastic swell only hinted at on record.

'Desert Island Questionnaire', featuring several hand gestures and spat-out lyrics from a committed, pirouetting Oberst, is a highlight, but really, the pace and flow of the show rarely, if ever, lets up. Excepting the whoops and hollers of a small American contingent when the Potomac River is referenced during 'Artifact', the songs from 2005's I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning receive the loudest cheers: 'Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)' and especially 'We Are Nowhere And It's Now' sound wonderfully lived-in at this point, while 'Lua', the first song of the encore played by just Oberst and Goldsmith (who provides subtle flourishes of electric guitar and a guest verse), is rapturously received, its rendering of alienation and substance abuse in New York City as pointed and moving as it proved nearly a decade ago.

Oberst himself is on rare form, smiling, spinning and pausing to explain what the songs are about throughout the set (wryly noting that they seem to share several principle themes, but "that's okay"), and come raucous closer 'Another Travelin' Song' he signals to the crowd that he's coming their way before a gracefully executed stage dive. The band had just been told that they had to leave the stage in order for the Apolo's regular Wednesday club session to get underway, but there's a feeling that they could have played deep into the muggy August night. As they take their leave grins and hugs abound, and there is the feeling of a job done with considerable panache.

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