Once proclaimed a “new Dylan,” Oberst now seemed more inclined to emulate U2. He traded trebly guitar cascades with longtime collaborator Mike Mogis as strobes flashed and the elaborate lighting setup cycled through red, fuchsia and purple. Many of the songs were driven by two drummers, and nearly all of them featured two keyboardists: Bright Eyes regular Nate Walcott (who also played the occasional trumpet solo) and Laura Burhenn (formerly of Georgie James, a D.C. pop-rock band). Oberst sometimes switched to acoustic guitar, and Mogis periodically played pedal steel, but the country and folk timbres were overwhelmed by arena-rock gestures and even (during “Jejune Stars”) a disco beat.
The big noise often swallowed Oberst’s lyrics, but a unifying theme was nonetheless audible: There were enough invocations of death for a Cannibal Corpse show, although a better comparison might be Death Cab for Cutie. Like that band’s Ben Gibbard, Oberst uses mortality as a come-on rather than a threat. To judge by the audience’s screams, many Bright Eyes fans consider such lines as “you will die, you die, you die, you die’’ to be pretty sexy.