There is something inspiring about watching Phoebe Bridgers, one of the fastest rising stars in indie rock, team up with one of her heroes, former Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, in a musical partnership filled with genuine chemistry.
You can’t help but feel excited for Bridgers, who has been launching project after project — first her own solo career with the critically acclaimed 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps, followed by another critically acclaimed collaboration with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus in 2018 with boygenius — since she exploded onto the scene. And while Oberst has pursued different projects following the retirement of Bright Eyes in 2011, most notably his Omaha-based punk rock band Desaparecidos, Better Oblivion Community Center combines his songwriting prowess with Bridgers’ ethereal, gut-wrenching style to create something truly special.
On Tuesday night, the pair took the stage for a sold-out concert at Union Transfer. The crowd pressed eagerly into the stage, impatient after waiting for nearly two hours. The phrase “It will end in tears” glowed above a painted doorway on their backdrop, promising emotional catharsis.
While it was enjoyable to watch Bridgers and Oberst play high energy rock renditions of both their collaborative and solo material — “Dylan Thomas” and a reworked version of Bridgers’ “Funeral” were crowd favorites — the most powerful moments of the show came during the slower moments. The audience, a mixture of older indie rock fans attached to Oberst’s earlier work with Bright Eyes and younger fans who were clearly there to see Bridgers, was particularly captivated by “Service Road,” a folk number about Oberst’s brother’s death in 2016. The duo indulged the crowd with a cover of the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
“When Phoebe and I started this band, we wanted it to sound like the Replacements,” Oberst joked. “But clearly we sound nothing like the Replacements.”
And while Bridgers’ solo work dominated the non-Better Oblivion tracks during the set, Oberst brought out a Bright Eyes number, “Easy / Lucky / Free,” during the encore to the crowd’s delight. Unfortunately, they chose not repeat their cover of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s “Shallow," which they debuted a day earlier at their Brooklyn show.