Bright Eyes played the Palladium outdoors – 7/30

The reactivated Bright Eyes made their long-delayed way to Worcester last weekend with support from Lucy Dacus.

“Gotta keep on going like it ain’t the end,” go the opening lyrics to the opening song of this rescheduled, pandemic-altered Bright Eyes tour multiple years in the making. It feels safe to say that Conor Oberst and company didn’t envision the rollout for their big comeback record – last summer’s Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was – playing out quite like it did, but like a lot of music released during quarantine, it unwittingly took on a certain fatalistic resonance that carries through to these uncertain times of reopening.

Oberst indeed danced and sang his way through “Dance and Sing,” sporting his finest piano man tie and exuding a frontman theatricality largely absent from his past several years of acoustic troubadourism and co-bandleading with Phoebe Bridgers. It was a fitting introduction to a night both emotional and loopy, featuring a range of classic Bright Eyes tunes, running gags about aging, diversions about the state of punk rock and a miniature orchestra.

Oberst had expressed some trepidation about this summer’s shows happening at all in interviews, as well as the challenges of re-learning his own verbose back catalog and coping with the emotional terror of a year in isolation. The Worcester date was just the fourth proper show Bright Eyes have played in approximately a decade, and while Oberst has kept busy in the interim, there were certainly signs of rust in more than a few lyrics flubbed or glossed over entirely. Never amidst the shakiness though did Oberst ever come across as phoning it in. The set was committed, spirited, passionate, cracks in the veneer and all. Credit is due to the crowd too, who enthusiastically filled in the gaps without judgement or a second thought as longtime bandmates Nate Walcott and Mike Mogis, bolstered by auxiliary membership and the aforementioned orchestra, steered the characteristically rich arrangements.

The night was ultimately one abundant in both joy and uncertainty, coming on the heels of Bright Eyes themselves postponing upcoming indoor dates amid rising COVID case levels. Being in a sizable crowd, even in the spacious outdoor confines of the Palladium parking lot, felt more than a little unnerving. We all hope things will come under control to the degree that shows safely go on and another lockdown evades us, but truly, who knows what happens next here. For the moment, we had this show – Oberst going through it as we’re all going through it, me tearing up during “Bowl of Oranges,” Gansetts running $11 a piece, the iconic Worcester smily face looking down on us from a massive brick wall mural. It felt like a perfect gig for its time and place.

Check out a gallery of Bright Eyes and Lucy Dacus, who played a lovely and enthusiastically-received opening set, below.