Conor Oberst returned to his semi-adoptive home New York City with a batch of new songs‚ leaving behind his Bright Eyes mask and the warming sounds of pedal steel and mandolin for a three-guitar assault with Nik Frietas and Taylor Hollingsworth.
Flanked by the lone familiar face of Nate Walcott sitting behind his B-3 organ‚ the Mystic Valley Band launched into the anthem-like "Moab" as the chorus‚ "There's nothing the road cannot heal" rang off the walls of the sold-out Bowery Ballroom.
Gone was the heavy orchestration from his past works on I'm Wide Awake‚ It's Morning and Lifted‚ and in its place a stripped down alt-country act with Conor's now-famous drawl leading the band through powerful versions of "Sausilito" and "Get Well Cards" off his brand new‚ eponymous album.
The Mystic Valley Band‚ rounded out with Macey Taylor on bass and Jason Boesel behind the kit‚ take their name from the Mexican village of Tepoztlán known for its Aztec Magic and extra-terrestrial sightings. Conor recounted a story from earlier in the day when a Bowery employee asked where the band was from. "We're from Mexico‚" quipped Oberst. "But he didn't believe me." The band has truly bought into their Mexican surroundings‚ and it isn't unexpected based on the recurring theme of escape throughout the songs.
The band chose to tackle a surprising cover of Bob Dylan's "Corrina‚ Corrina." Comparisons of Conor to Dylan have been written about in almost every magazine‚ so the fact that Conor was willing to take this risk proved how comfortable he has become in his own skin over the years.
"I Don't Want to Die (In the Hospital)" and "Milk Thistle" ended the set and contrasted with each other‚ as the former with its upbeat rhythm talks of the wanting to be anywhere but a hospital bed before death‚ the latter with Conor onstage with his acoustic guitar crooning to go anywhere but heaven when he dies because "I'll be bored as hell." The slow somber song‚ and the earlier "Cape Canaveral‚" is where his star shined brightest: alone on the stage as the crowd hung on every word and note.
For an encore they covered Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" before jumping into "NYC-Gone Gone" about his personal escape from the city that never sleeps to the Mexican village. The night closed with the unreleased track "Breezy‚" and as the band came to a peak‚ Conor quietly waved goodbye to the crowd‚ making his escape after successfully giving the crowd theirs.