Despite having over 20 albums under his belt, there is still a flash of teenage angst running through Conor Oberst.
Looking back on the early Bright Eyes albums they’re riddled with self loathing lyrics, alt-rock and off key screamo vocals. It’s prompted some to proclaim those early albums were Oberst’s best - yet his matured, acoustic numbers still have a pinch of awkward disdain.
With Oberst leaping from one project to another (eight and counting) it’s no surprise Desaparecidos reformed for a political benefit in 2010. That they’ve continued for this small tour is only part of the course.
It’s interesting to see the group dynamic return to Oberst’s performances. Unlike Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos prides itself on the traditional group energy. Walking onstage Oberst is barely recognisable against the line up of long hair and crumpled t-shirts.
As a throng of unlikely male fans surge towards the stage, it’s clear Desaparecidos are the real deal. Backed by Landon Hedges’s almost invisible vocals, Oberst’s lyrics carry an extra weight as he spits with added venom. 'Read Music/Speak Spanish' may sound like the anger of youth yet Desaparecidos ease a performance worthy of any hardcore billing.
Creating a wonderful, melodic mess, each song starts at full volume and offers little release, only building layer upon layer of fast, fuelling guitars. Merging with Oberst and Hedges's politically enthralling message, ‘Greater Omaha’ becomes a mix of lo-fi vocals among strong, power chords and distortion.
Under a covering of long black hair, Oberst has found himself the leader of another fanbase, this one more dedicated than the last and even more willing to tolerate his onstage political tirades. Maybe Oberst is trying to show that his views haven’t changed, that he still has the potential to make musical masterpieces out of political messages, yet here it feels like an unwanted awkward addition. Even a rushed rendition of 'Spanish Bombs' by The Clash fails to lift the shadow with Oberst’s initial charisma transferring to arrogance.
Thrashing through an hour set, there are times when you just need a break - yet Desaparecidos are unwilling or reluctant to give it to you, pushing you harder and harder to engage. It’s not until highlight ‘Man And Wife, The Latter (Damaged Goods)’ that the volume drops and we see a glimpse of a low key build into a melodic crescendo.
As Oberst bursts into life it’s clear this isn’t a band dabbling in a new genre. Eleven years after 'Read Music/Speak Spanish', the passion and message still shines through, and a more mature sound only makes Desaparecidos stronger. Maybe this side project will disappear among Oberst's collaborative past, but as he promises to see us soon, it may also be a sign of things to come.
Words by Ruth Offord
Photos by Lindsay Wilson