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Saturday, 26 October 2013 10:22

Concert review: Conor Oberst and Desaparecidos fight the power but fall short of winning at the Pageant, Thursday, October 24

Concert review: Conor Oberst and Desaparecidos fight the power but fall short of winning at the Pageant, Thursday, October 24
Written by Blair Stiles

"This song is about being broke," Conor Oberst began. He peered down at the audience, tuned his guitar and finished, "I'm rich as fffuuuccckkk, so it doesn't directly apply to me."

Oberst, who came to fame as Bright Eyes, an endeavor encapsulated in popular, sparkling love songs like "First Day of My Life" and loose-lipped, Freudian fever dreams like "Something Vague," has grown into something of a cynical American. The young man who wore his heart on his sleeve now sports an axe sharpened to cut down politicians, employers, and, it can be assumed, the illuminati. And, yes, he is probably rather affluent.

Bright Eyes was the soundtrack for many a maligned teenager in the early 2000s. And now, porous enough are his pockets that Oberst can spend his money on making records with Desaparecidos. Despite having begun the band around the same time he ripped his heart out and squeezed all its juices into records with Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos never capsized the pleasure boat that is Bright Eyes.

A careful eye could see that the demographic Thursday night at the Pageant was split in two. There were teenagers with friends and with chaperones, and those mid-to-late 20s who were once/are Bright Eyes fans. Yet, Desaparecidos' political-punk howls did not seem to engage Oberst's St. Louis fans. Despite the lure of the troubadour, a meager hundred people came out to see Desaparecidos. Those in attendance witnessed Oberst shoulder the burden of being a middle-aged man with fat pockets chugging power chords with his breakfast of scrambled power pop.

The issues Oberst brought up in his songs last night -- the music industry, immigration, corruption, brokeassedness -- are nothing new to anyone who Googles "American decline" or glances at a New York Times headline. But whether or not his woes are trite and tired the kids who clutched the rail and head-banged did not care. Supporters of Desaparecidos appeared to love it. There was screaming and moshing and SO MANY BLACK HANE'S T-SHIRTS. It was reminiscent of memories that belong to St. Louis' long-lost, squalid music venue, Pigslop. The difference, however, is that the strife bellowed by the St. Louis punk bands who inhabited Pigslop's anarchist squat were believable. It felt as though there really was something to bitch about. When Desaparecidos opened with "The Left Is Right" a disingenuous breeze left a draft. "The Left Is Right" is meant to be a fist bump for those whose efforts inspired the Occupy Movement. The song also alludes to the 99% -- a group of people Oberst, a few songs later, made clear he did not identify with.

Oberst ended an unreleased song he called "Penny Pincher" with this thought: "I'll just use my imagination and pretend to be you broke fuckers." If Oberst is not affected by our economy why does he bother to feign identification with his audience in song? Desaparecidos' ethics on record are digestible due to the quantified levels of distortion and low production value. They have the feel of a genuine punk band. Comparatively, being lectured on Obama's political agenda by Oberst felt like having a parent say they understood you when you were 15. They never did.

Oberst may remember what is was like to be stretched for dough every month come rent time. He may see the inflating gas prices and wonder who bought who at the last Senate meeting. But it does not appear that Oberst understood the 99%, in other words, 100% of the audience at the Pageant. At one point, he dedicated the set to "Pussy, bullshit politicians who call themselves 'progressive.'" The sentiment was doused in irony. To be a progressive leader is to place oneself in the shoes of the masses. If Oberst is aiming to identify with us, playing monotonous political-punk without an affinity for the disparity between rich and not-rich is only going to arouse a curled lip from those who live out the issues Oberst howls about.

Maybe that is Oberst's gambit -- to show that the powers that be are not out for our best interest. Like Oberst, they are out to do whatever they see fit to do. In Desaparecidos' case, it is harping about capitalism while sounding like a bitter Jimmy Eat World.

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