Staring down maturity

Published May 14, 2007

Coner Oberst, a.k.a. Bright Eyes, is just great if you don't take him out of context.

He's no boy genius. Too old for that now.

Nor is he this generation's Bob Dylan.

He's simply talented and prolific, if somewhat offbeat to some.

At 27, Oberst has come a long way since first gaining a cult following as a preteen and helping label Saddle Creek Records, in hometown Omaha, get off the ground. His popular indie act performs the big room Wednesday night at Morsani Hall of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Oakley Hall and McCarthy Trenching warm up the crowd (see page 24 for more).

Bright Eyes' songs are evocative and confessional, eliciting sighs of "Aw, I wish I thought of putting it that way." His words are poetic, but they're delivered in straightforward prose.

That raw emotion is a bit much for some.

Naysayers who dismiss Oberst as a self-indulgent whiner should at least give him credit for these two things: He hasn't left Saddle Creek for any majors, and he plays well with others.

Oberst has toured and recorded with a long list of music luminaries, one that includes the velvet-voiced country chanteuse Emmylou Harris and Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss.

These days he's performing his signature hybrid of Americana and indie grit-rock with multi-instrumentalist/producer Mike Mogis, horn player and keyboardist Nate Walcott and a rotating lineup of folks from Omaha's indie music scene.

Bright Eyes' 2007 full-length release, Cassadaga, is a highly ambitious, lushly produced concept album. It takes personal, religious and socio-political musings and wraps them around an old-fashioned carnival of mystic boondoggling.

On the CD, Oberst has made the transition into meatier matters, which has been a sticking point for some critics. His topical lyrics have been met with disappointment, ambivalence and a general "stick to what you do best" kind of attitude.

Sure, Oberst has experienced some growing pains, going from adolescent-like introspection to more grown-up concerns. But who hasn't? And watching his evolution unfold promises to be as fascinating as his over-the-top emotionality.


Bright Eyes

He performs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $32.50. (813) 229-7827.