"There's nothing that the road cannot heal," goes a line from "Moab," the lead song from last night's Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band tour opener at Seattle's Neumo's. In Oberst's case, it might be true: He appeared more lucid and vital than ever. Maybe it was the intimate setting, but Oberst seemed to have allayed his demons and arrived at some of his strongest songs to date.
Backed by a loose-but-tight five-piece band, Oberst and crew ran through every song from their upcoming eponymous album. They took cues from Americana icons like the Heartbreakers and the Band, often letting longtime Bright Eyes member Nate Walcott lead on churchlike organ while coloring the spaces with a three-guitar palette.
Aside from a few squealing declarations of love, the crowd maintained a reverential silence throughout the hour-and-a-half set, soaking up the new material as willingly as the band played it. Highlights came mid-show with heartwrenching slow burners "Cape Canaveral" and "Danny Callahan" and later on with the barroom sing-along "I Don't Wanna Die (in the Hospital)." Oberst dueted with Walcott on "Lenders in the Temple;" later he did the same with guitarist Nik Freitas on "Gotta Reason #2." They closed with the tender "Milk Thistle" before returning for a four-song encore that included a song led by Freitas and "Corina, Corina," an ageless folk-blues standard played by everyone from Bob Wills to Taj Mahal to Bob Dylan.
"Gentleman's Pact" (AKA "Smoke Signals")
"Lenders in the Temple"
"Gotta Reason #2"
"I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital)"
"Eagle on a Pole"
"Corina, Corina" (blues standard)
Unknown song led by guitarist Nik Freitas