Conor Oberst and Friends Spread Holiday Cheer for WFUV In New York City
With just an accompanying keyboardist, Conor Oberst walked onto the stage of New York City's iconic Beacon Theatre Monday night (Dec. 8) to open the show he was headlining.
'Conor Oberst and Friends' were slated to appear at the 10th Annual 'Holiday Cheer for FUV,' a benefit concert for a radio station (WFUV) with nearly as much history as the Beacon itself. As Oberst wrapped up a hauntingly beautiful rendition of 'Lenders In the Temple,' WFUV program director Rita Houston came out and assured the audience, "That is just a taste of what's to come."
And with that, Brooklyn's the Lone Bellow came out and instantly set the bar exceptionally high with a performance of their latest track, 'Then Came the Morning.' Following that with 'Cold as It Is,' the highlight of their set came with their third and final song, the nearly unplugged, 'Watch Over Us,' led by guitarist Brian Elmquist. The trio crowded around one microphone, and with Elmquist's lone guitar they absolutely captivated the crowd, leaving them wanting so much more from the burgeoning Americana outfit.
"This is an absolute dream," frontman Zach Williams told the sold-out Beacon Theatre.
After the Lone Bellow, the next friend of Oberst that was up was none other than the divine Laura Marling -- an English singer-songwriter who has been nominated for Britain's prestigious Mercury Award three times in her young career. She gave the Beacon two songs with little conversation; 2010's 'Devil's Spoke' and the new track, 'How Strange I Love You.'
Rounding out the first set of the night were upstate New York's own Felice Brothers. Opening with 'Meadow of a Dream,' the Felice Brothers invited Oberst out to help them with their second song, the accordion-drenched 'Wonderful Life.' For most of the song, Oberst sat behind the piano shaking a maraca, but he helped out with the second verse of the song -- much to the delight of the crowd. They ended their part of the evening with 'Take This Bread,' an anthem that should be heard by every single person in the country, not just those in the Beacon Monday night: "Take this bread if you need it, friend / 'Cause I'm alright if you're alright / I ain't got a lot, but all I got / You're welcome to it / 'Cause I'm alright if you're alright."
And with that, the show took a 20-minute intermission.
As the second half of the show opened, the crowd was obviously anxious: The first 60 minutes already exceeded all expectations -- what will this next set hold in store?
Suzanne Vega, introduced as "the gold standard for New York songwriters," opened things up after the intermission with two new songs, 'Horizon' and the beautiful Bible story-inspired, 'Jacob and the Angel.' Like most bands during the show, her set was unfortunately much too short.
As fans were still coming down from the high of her amazing performance, Jonathan Wilson walked out, dressed in a "psychedelic shirt" (as described by an FUV DJ) and backwards 1992 Eric Clapton tour baseball hat. Wilson -- who produced Oberst's latest effort, 'Upside Down Mountain,' and is the guitarist in his current touring lineup -- performed only one song for 10-plus minutes, the jam-tastic 'Valley of the Silver Moon' from his 2011 solo album, 'Gentle Spirit.'
If there was one artist who rivaled the crowd's anticipatory excitement for Oberst, it was Natalie Merchant, on right after Wilson. As she was introduced, there was a collective nodding of heads throughout the Beacon: "Her voice has been with us for most of our lives."
That statement is hard to argue with; the 51-year-old singer joined 10,000 Maniacs in 1981 and, with her own solo work, has released six records since 1995 (including this year's self-titled LP). Her performance included the title-track to 2001's 'Motherland' and 'Texas' from the aforementioned eponymous album, and then she invited Oberst out to the stage to help her with an old hymn, 'Weeping Pilgrim.' Before the song started, though, she praised Oberst for being an "incredible lyricist" -- and also for helping her 11-year-old daughter fall back in love with music. And as everyone had hoped, she ended her gig with the always recognizable 1998 smash hit, 'Kind & Generous' (which was quite fitting, considering the audience was full of FUV donors and supporters).
While everything that preceded him was worth the price of admission, Oberst's main set was flawless. He didn't have much to say for the first few tunes -- which included 'Land Locked Blues,' 'Hundreds of Ways,' Zigzagging Toward the Light' and 'Artifact #1' -- but was beside himself when he had the opportunity to welcome Vega back to the stage.
He and Vega, at his request, performed one of her songs and his favorites, 'Headshots.' Following that collaboration, Oberst brought the Felice Brothers out to help with a rollicking cover of John Prine's 'Pretty Good.'
And then, the performance to end all performances -- Oberst brought out all of his friends for one final song: Creedence Clearwater's 'Have You Ever Seen the Rain.'
An evening like this -- full of unforgettable performances and unique collaborations -- doesn't come around very often. To cap it all off with a familial jam session (one that got the otherwise always-seated Beacon crowd on their feet) was the perfect ending. Calling this concert "magical" is a severe understatement, but we are simply at a loss for words for how special the evening was for all involved.
Take a look at a few of our shots from the crowd below, and then check out WFUV's gorgeous photos from the night via their official Flickr account here.
Proceeds from the 10th Annual 'Holiday Cheer for FUV' go to benefit WFUV. As the station so eloquently puts it, "We owe all of the musicians a special thanks ... and every single person who bought a ticket to support this radio station. You are our heroes."