The current tour that Bright Eyes is on, and has been on for the majority of the year, has been a fan’s dream come true. Never before have Conor Oberst and co. seemed so focused on stage, so determined to please the crowd, and so self-aware of both their back catalogue and their fans attachment to their early work. Songs like “Going For The Gold” and “Something Vague” have carved their way back into the setlist regularly, and each night, with an average set-length of two hours, touches on all of Bright Eyes’ releases, with the obvious emphasis being on the recent The People’s Key.
So, to commemorate this banner year for the Bright Eyes brand, an exclusive EP was released at HMV retailers in the UK, containing six songs reflecting their tour in 2011. This is not the first Bright Eyes live document, as Motion Sickness was released in 2005 to document the I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning tour, and therefore none of the six songs featured on Live Recordings were also contained on Motion Sickness. The setlist seems strong enough, three older songs and three newer ones, but a couple miscues keep the collection from finding any form of success, and will likely only be appreciated by Bright Eyes completionists.
The record kicks off in the most unfortunate way – it uses the same spoken-word recording to begins The People’s Key and all of his concerts to begin the album. Sure, it is an accurate representation to the Bright Eyes live experience, and when the actual concert is going on, it does serve get the crowd’s attention to focus on the stage and the performance that is commencing. However, on a six-song live album, it feels bloated, and a similar nuance to how it feels on The People’s Key. It is like Oberst in dead-set against ever having any version of “Firewall” appear on a mix cd.
“Bowl Of Oranges,” the beloved song from Lifted… and one that was formerly considered a live rarity, also misfires considerably, opening with a driving piano line that takes spare and makes it feel empty. In the song’s second verse, the crowd can be heard echoing the lyrics, casting light onto the songs timing issues, which eventually rectifies when Oberst speeds up near the songs conclusion. The recording does not do the classic song justice and only serves as reason for it to remain a live rarity.
Of course, there are some nice moments on the compact collection. “Lover I Don’t Have To Love” is the one song that will take listeners back to the Bright Eyes live show, with Laura Burhenn’s accompanying vocals and Nate Walcott’s soulful trumpet solo reminding that Bright Eyes is more than just Conor and the Obersts. “Ladder Song” burns with more intensity than on record and “Shell Games” sounds good in just about any condition. Still, nothing on Live Recordings EP strikes as particularly important or, even, necessary. Whether the point of this is to treat fans to something special or to have a product to sell correlating with their UK tour, Live Recordings EP will likely be some form of a disappointment, and pales in comparison to the real thing.