October 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Conor Oberst, since age 13, has released one of the strongest catalogs in modern American music. His unmistakable voice and penetrating lyrics stand front and center, whether under his own name; the adolescent, yet strangely adult Commander Venus; the defining work of Bright Eyes; the all star Monsters of Folk; or the topical rock of Desaparecidos.

Do You Feel At Home – The title track from Commander Venus’s 1994 debut presents many Oberst signatures: wise-beyond-years lyrics; a controlled, yet shaky delivery; catharsis; and hooks that set the singer-songwriter apart.

Touch – Bright Eyes’ Jan. 1998 debut A Collection of Songs presented the lo-fi blueprint of the confessional songwriting to come, yet their September release, Letting Off the Happiness, is where the magic happened. “Touch” blends the manic vocals of Oberst’s acoustic songs without acoustic: blitzed out drums and “broken” keyboards make “Touch” an amazingly honest, fractured gem.

Something Vague – 2000’s Fevers and Mirrors solidifies the eclectic instrumentation of modern Bright Eyes. “Something Vague” perfectly expresses the confusion and passing of adolescence to early independent adulthood.

You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? – 2002’s Lifted is the album that placed Oberst in the national spotlight, with ambition bursting from everywhere. “You Will …,” is a simple message and melody that not only sticks in one’s head but practically signs a lease on the place.

Poison Oak – Bright Eyes most popular album, 2005’s I’m Wide Awake it’s Morning, is a classic. “Lua” and “First Day of My Life” are Oberst staples; however, his work is rarely more personal than on “Poison Oak.” The humanity and pure emotion Oberst displays across this track is staggering.

Easy/Lucky/Free Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, also released in 2005, explored Oberst’s electronic inclinations. Digital Ash brought a new sheen and darkness to Bright Eyes’ take on electro rock. “Easy/ Lucky/ Free” closes this underrated collection with a meditation on an apocalyptic mortality.

Cape Canaveral– Oberst returned to the stripped down leanings of earlier releases for his 2008 self-titled solo album. Weaving vivid imagery and mysticism, Oberst achieves a new sense of universality on “Cape Canaveral.” Using acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Oberst wisely sings: “Victory’s sweet even deep in the cheap seats.”

Time Forgot – Oberst entered the major label world in 2014 with the well-polished Upside Down Mountain. “Time Forgot” presents us with a familiar Oberst landscape, though with a new sense that with fight and dedication, the tunnel may just have some light.

City on the Hill – Desaparecidos have become one of America’s more relevant rock bands. Despite a 13-year gap between their debut and the 2015 release Payola, Denver Dalley, Matt Baum, Landon Hedges, Ian McElroy, and Oberst have only gained strength. “City on The Hill” exhibits one of the strongest-ever Oberst vocals as he joins the body count of a nation needing, hoping, and fighting for something more.

Oberst will headline the Holland Stages Festival on Saturday, Oct. 17. The free, all-day event celebrates the 10th anniversary of Omaha Performing Arts and the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St., and will be held on five stages inside and outside the building.

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