Performing as the indie duo Better Oblivion Community Center, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst brought compassion and warmth to the Stubb’s stage Tuesday for a lovely, eclectic set that showcased the best in both — and in musical compatriots Christian Lee Hutson and Lala Lala, both of whom performed earlier in the evening and regularly joined Bridgers and Oberst on stage.
The pair kicked off their set with the track “My City” from their self-titled debut album, immediately establishing their onstage musical kinship and a spirit of joyful collaboration. For the song, and many others throughout the hour-and-a-half-long set, Bridgers and Oberst, both dressed in black, stood next to each other with their electric guitars and their mics, facing the audience like a team.
Oberst and Bridgers are both beloved musicians in their own rights at different stages in their careers. Oberst is a classic indie veteran. At 39, he’s amassed almost a dozen different musical projects, with the confessional indie folk of Bright Eyes by far his most popular endeavor. Bridgers, meanwhile, is 24 and has already released critically acclaimed albums as a solo artist and in the indie supergroup Boygenius (with singers Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker).
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Together, the two are natural collaborators, expressing constant support and respect for one another onstage and easily finding space to connect with their music. During performances of songs “Forest Lawn” and “Sleepwalkin’” their complementary talents and styles were on full display. An emo hero to millennials of a certain age, Oberst explodes with emotion, allowing his voice to swell and crack and his arms to flail during any moment where the feelings of a song get strong. Bridgers, meanwhile, expresses vulnerability more with steady, driven composure and clear, persistent vocals. And both are sharp, brilliant songwriters with talent most of us can only dream about. It’s an inspiring combination to see in person.
The performance hit all the highlights from Better Oblivion Community Center’s album — single “Dylan Thomas” was rousing and energetic, and Oberst’s vocals on “Service Road” were a particularly tender, personal moment. But the pair also had a blast running through songs from their own solo catalogues — including “Lua” for Oberst and “Scott Street” for Bridgers — and covering some favorite classics, including the Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” and Austin icon Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town.”
And during all of it, Bridgers and Oberst swapped lead and backing vocals with ease, allowing one another to explore the sounds they’ve created both together and apart in new ways. “They’re having such a good time,” I wrote over and over again in my show notes.
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The moment that gave me the strongest goosebumps of the evening came during Oberst’s performance of Bridgers’ fan favorite “Funeral.” It’s a stunning song, one that makes me certain Bridgers is going to be one of the most important names in music for years. Oberst handled the song with a reverence that nearly brought tears, as if saying with his vocals and guitar that he felt lucky to be able to interpret Bridgers’ incredible work.
Artists team up for collabs and projects and supergroups all the time, but Bridgers and Oberst have a particularly generous, reflective and curious nature to their work that makes Better Oblivion Community Center something really special.