Photos and review by Ronny Kerr
See photos of Better Oblivion Community Center, a new indie rock project formed by Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, playing to a sold out show at August Hall in San Francisco on Friday, March 15, 2019. Their tour is just getting started, in support of the band’s first album released on Dead Oceans in January.
Better Oblivion Community Center is the latest in a long line of indie Americana projects created by Conor Oberst, the musician best known for founding Bright Eyes. This time his partner is Phoebe Bridgers, a budding musician born in 1994—around the time Oberst’s career was kicking off. But she’s by no means singing in his shadow. After releasing her debut album Stranger in the Alps in 2017, last year she teamed up with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus to release Boygenius, one of most critically acclaimed albums of the year.
At last night’s show, Better Oblivion mostly played from their new self-titled album, but they filled out the rest of the hour-and-a-half set with songs from Oberst’s and Bridger’s solo catalogues. One especially cherished selection was “Lua” (from Bright Eyes’ 2005 album I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning). Though Oberst sings solo on the album version, it lends itself well to a duet: on the 2009 compilation album Dark Was the Night (benefiting the Red Hot Organization), Gillian Welch joins Oberst on the same track.
Overall, Oberst and Bridgers appear as comfortable together onstage as they sound on the record. It’s an easy, simple sound, and that’s the environment they create. Projects of this kind often get muddied by competing egos, but in this case it’s clear that each musician is eager to let the other shine. (Photos from the SF show below.)
Supporting Better Oblivion Community Center were LA-based Americana musician Christian Lee Hutson and NY-based band Sloppy Jane (photos below). While the former delivered a standard set of solo acoustic guitar and vocals, the latter was anything but traditional. Backed by an eight-piece group complete with string section, mermaid velvet-clad Haley Dahl led everyone into her epic circus of noise and laughter. It was like Kate Bush meets the Muppets meets Leonard Bernstein.