Songwriter Conor Oberst enthralls crowd at Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre
Conor Oberst is a man of many projects. His current tour spotlights his two newest releases, the intimate “Ruminations” and full-band solo effort “Salutations.” On July 27, that tour rolled into Wilkes-Barre’s F.M. Kirby Center.
As fans continued to file into the Kirby Center’s auditorium, Philadelphia-based four-piece Hop Along started things on a high note. Guitarist/vocalist Frances Quinlan’s voice switches between grating wail and subtle statement effortlessly, recalling powerful female vocalists of rock’s past. Their set only clocked in around the half-hour mark, but as the crowd grew larger, the ovations grew louder.
For Kingston resident Tyler Chau, the moment was three years in the making.
“This is the first time I’ve gotten to see them and I’m very not disappointed,” Chau said. “I’m really happy that they played ‘Sister Cities,’ that’s one of my favorite songs from them. Frances was great and unique and holds up live as well as the record.”
That wouldn’t be the last fans heard from Quinlan, but for the moment, Hop Along yielded the stage to the night’s main attraction.
In 2008, Rolling Stone named Oberst Songwriter of the Year; that title is misleading. It was clear from the moment Oberst stepped onto the stage that the audience — most young enough to have grown up following the songwriter’s career — considered him one of the most important songwriters of their generation, years too small a measurement to accurately describe Oberst’s influence.
Given Oberst’s mastery of metaphor, it may seem cliche to say he had the room in the palm of his hand, but it’s the truth. When he and his five-piece backing band weren’t playing, the crowd was silent and attentive. When Conor and Co. burst into song, folks bobbed their heads and sang along.
Most of the night’s material came from last year’s “Ruminations” and the 2017 full-band interpretation of the album, “Salutations.” Oberst rounded out the setlist with tracks from his previous solo efforts, along with a few songs pulled from other projects. The first few words of Bright Eyes track “Lua” elicited a roar from the audience, while “Map of the World,” a personal favorite that comes from Monsters of Folk’s 2010 self-titled LP, was a welcome surprise.
The aforementioned return of Quinlan came during the encore, when Oberst invited the vocalist on stage to cover singer-songwriter Neil Young. Then she left. Then Oberst and his band left. The crowd eventually left too, but the lobby chatter indicated it was a night that’d stay with them for some time to come.
“I’ve been a fan of Bright Eyes since high school so I was excited to see Conor and everyone delivered,” said Gianna Caprio of Pittston.
Caprio said her favorite part was “the rant,” a between-song monologue Oberst gave about the United States’ political state of affairs, but she also praised Oberst’s and Quinlan’s vocal performances. Then, she said something I’d imagine a lot of F.M. Kirby Center patrons were thinking.
“It was nice to see an act have a show in this area,” Caprico said.
If Oberst’s Wilkes-Barre date signals an indie-rock invasion, Caprico isn’t the only person who’ll be happy.