After-Midnight Story Hour, Inspired by Bright Eyes and Lucy Dacus at Ting Pavilion, Charlottesville, VA, August 2021

I quoted a Lucy Dacus lyric on my Facebook music page yesterday. The girl’s got some wicked breakup lines that, though I cannot relate to them ATM (unless I direct them at my stagnant career, that is), still sting so good. In my post I also happened to mention NOT having tickets to see her local show with Bright Eyes.

Serendipitously, in the middle of work today, DP texted me that through his job he HAD scored us tickets, for free. So tonight after quitting time, off we went.

Truthfully, I should be ashamed that I had not already shelled out. There was no good reason except maybe that, despite being a singer-songwriter myself, I tend to expect singer-songwriters’ concerts to be less than riveting, ill-suited to large spaces and with too much lost in translation (though listening raptly to every clever turn of phrase in the comfort of my own home is one of my favorite pastimes).

Lucy Dacus is extremely young – I suspect she was born after 9/11 but haven’t brought myself to check – and though I originally learned of her a few years back via the program Virginia Currents (she’s a Richmond native), I’ve been hearing more and more about her lately. A lot of what I’ve heard has concerned her skill in conducting autopsies on her own youthful romantic pitfalls in a way that asserts narrative control and assigns metaphorical significance to past events. It won’t surprise you that this made my antennae perk up.

Lucy Dacus and band at Charlottesville’s Ting Pavilion

Sure enough, seeing her live tonight was quite the experience. I heard (and loved) a certain song of hers for the first time on local radio yesterday, and it was this song that fired up tonight’s crowd, especially a gaggle of what looked to be 14 and 15 year-old girls in General Admission. Lucy told them before launching the anthem that they could sing along if they wanted, and sing along they did, a surprisingly impassioned, in-key chorus whose prowess and theatrics suggested advanced drama-class geekery.

Dacus’ young fans holler their hearts out

As for Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes – I don’t go as far back with them as some folks do, given that I didn’t hear of them when I was in college. But Bright Eyes is still inextricably linked to a pivotal time in my life.

In 2008, still living in my childhood home but starting to devise my escape, I posted an ad on Craigslist seeking musical collaborators. That decision yielded two fateful contacts, both stationed in the Charlottesville area at the time. Before I even relocated to become an official C-Villain, I visited town with some frequency, and while one venture degenerated into a painful, pride-denting fable, the other paid my way into music biz experiences I would never otherwise have had.

Around this time, Dacus was probably in kindergarten. As for me, I’d recently stumbled across Conor singing “Four Winds” on Leno. He had an emo-ish, angular mop of hair and a sort of poetic, televangelist, bordering-on-hysteria delivery that I hadn’t even known I was longing for so badly. It satisfied me like a stiff drink of firewater.

Not long after, I stopped by to see the ill-fated contact, who drove me to distraction. He ran across the hot asphalt in bare feet to meet me when I parked. His black nails, blue-black dye job and piercings suggested a certain fluidity (or so I thought). We sat on his bed which, absurdly, I remember as a sort of choppy ocean of covers and debris – power cord, screwdriver, Doritos bag, loose CD-R (just riffing here, but you get the picture) and I automatically designated myself his bro (unfortunately, that would change after I moved). He couldn’t get over – or rather, lit up at – the fact that I was a “virgin” (putting that in quotes because it is a ridiculous concept with toxic connotations that means nothing and needs to change) at 26.

On the upside, he also sent me off with a ripped copy of Bright Eyes’ Cassadega, and the rest is history.

Driving to meet Contact #2 – a former indie rocker turned anesthesiologist with ravishing ER doc wife and cool modern apartment sporting manmade lake, pier, and fountain – I listened to that copy of Cassadega, as well as other things Contact #1 had turned me onto: NIN’s “The Great Destroyer” (Year Zero Remixed version) and English band Elbow, who he’d just seen in NYC with his new flame (“Audience with the Pope” was my fave).

The cast of the late summer light on foliage outside the city… the dreamy, idiotic place my head was at… sometimes it’s still so vivid to me that it’s virtually fragrant.

Conor performed “Four Winds” tonight – a song the Cassadega era no doubt saw him wear into the ground – and amazingly, he hadn’t lost a whit of conviction.

Conor Oberst (with Bright Eyes) at Charlottesville’s Ting Pavilion. I think he truly is singing “Four Winds” here, which is the first Bright Eyes song I ever heard.

He also did “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” from the modern indie classic I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and dare I say it felt more poignant and had a harder grind than it did when he was younger. During that number I asked myself how this could possibly be, given that the song’s about profound loneliness/sex-as-drug, whereas Conor’s now a husband and father. A visit to Wiki upon arriving home informed me that, not only was I wrong about his fatherhood, but also, he is now divorced. Mystery solved. Welcome back to the fold, Oberst.

I kid, I joke.

I am 100% serious, though, when I say how stupid it would have been of me to miss this show, free or not. Particularly during the rousing baroque interludes throughout “One and Done” – a single off last year’s pandemic-appropriate Down in the Weeds… – I am reminded how very under-my-same-umbrella Bright Eyes can be.

(Fun fact: It was apparently both Oberst’s and Dacus’ first time in Charlottesville, which I find almost too strange to be believed.)

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