NEPA Scene Staff

Indie rock trio Bright Eyes reunites at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem on June 16

Indie rock trio Bright Eyes reunites at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem on June 16
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From a press release:

Today, indie sensations Bright Eyes announced the details of a forthcoming world tour, which includes an extensive run across North America.

After a nine-year hiatus, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, and Nathaniel Walcott have regrouped to record and tour in 2020. The beloved band, whose previous nine albums are some of the most lauded and influential records of a generation, last released a new album, “The People’s Key,” in 2011, followed by a remastered box set collection of their work in 2016. In 2019, the acclaimed trio quietly returned to the studio to begin work on new material.

The only Pennsylvania stop will be at the Levitt Pavilion (789 E. 1st St., Bethlehem) as part of the SteelStacks Summer Concert Series on Tuesday, June 16 at 8 p.m. Indie rock singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus will open the show.

Tickets, which are $42.50 in advance or $45 day of show, go on sale this Thursday, Feb. 20 at 10 a.m. to ArtsQuest Members and Friday, Feb. 21 at noon to the general public at and 610-332-3378. The concert is sponsored by Yuengling, the official beer of the SteelStacks Summer Concert Series.

Bright Eyes signed to indie label Dead Oceans in late 2019. ​On adding the band to their already formidable roster of artists, Dead Oceans co-founder Phil Waldorf said, “​Bright Eyes is not just a formative artist for me personally, but for countless people who work at Dead Oceans. To get to work with a band that is part of our own origin stories in falling in love with music is the rarest of privileges. We are thrilled to be part of another great chapter in Bright Eyes enduring legacy.”

From Conor Oberst’s early recordings in an Omaha basement in 1995 all the way up to 2020, Bright Eyes’ music tries to unravel the impossible tangles of dissent: personal and political, external and internal. It’s a study of the beauty in unsteadiness in all its forms – in a voice, beliefs, love, identity, and what fills up the spaces in-between. And in so many ways, it’s just about searching for a way through.

2020 is full of significant anniversaries for Bright Eyes. “Fevers and Mirrors” was released 20 years ago this May, while “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” and “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” both turned 15 in January. The latter, a singer/songwriter tour-de-force released amidst the Bush presidency and Iraq War, wades through incisive anti-war rhetoric and micro, intimate calamities. On the title track and throughout the record, Oberst sings about body counts in the newspaper, televised wars, the bottomless pit of American greed, and struggling to understand the world alongside one’s own turmoil. In its own way, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” carved out its place in the canon of great anti-war albums by being both present and prophetic, its urgency enduring 15 years later.

In 2011, the release of “The People’s Key,” Bright Eyes’ ninth and most recent album, ushered in an unofficial hiatus for the project. In the time since, the work of the band’s core members – Oberst, multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Walcott – has remained omnipresent, through both the members’ original work and collaboration.

In recent years, Mogis produced records for beloved folk acts First Aid Kit and Joseph, among others, as well as mixed the fine-spun ennui of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakthrough 2017 debut, “Stranger in the Alps.” Mogis and bandmate Walcott also teamed up to write the original scores for “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Stuck in Love,” and “Lovely Still,” and Walcott worked as a solo composer scoring number of independent feature-length films. Walcott spent extensive time on collaboration; in addition to his arrangement work for Mavis Staples, First Aid Kit, and M. Ward, he contributed studio work to artists ranging from U2 to jazz guitarist Jeff Parker, and he also traveled the world as a touring member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Oberst, who is three decades into a prolific musical career, spent the last decade in similarly productive fashion. Across three years, he released a string of solo albums – “Salutations” (2017), “Ruminations” (2016), and “Upside Down Mountain” (2014) – as well as guested on records by First Aid Kit, Phoebe Bridgers, and Alt-J. His punk band Desaparecidos emerged from a 13-year hiatus in 2015 with the thunderous sophomore LP, “Payola,” a white-knuckled disarray of hollered political fury. And at the top of 2019, Oberst and Bridgers debuted their new band, Better Oblivion Community Center, digitally dropping the critically-lauded eponymous debut album alongside a surprise performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The heart at Bright Eyes’ songwriting still looms culturally in films and TV shows and through reimaginings by other artists. Mac Miller covered both “Lua” and “First Day of My Life;” Lorde’s version of the penultimate “People’s Key” track, the funereal-waltz “Ladder Song,” was a focal point of “The Hunger Games” soundtrack; The Killers covered “Four Winds” for their “Spaceman” EP; and Lil Peep’s “Worlds Away” samples “Something Vague,” while Young Thug’s “Me or Us” samples “First Day of My Life.”

Bright Eyes’ expansive catalog has traversed genre, sound, and countless players – unpolished demos or fuzzy folk, electrified rock or country twang. The sharp songwriting and musicianship is all anchored in their singular ability to flip deep intimacy into something universal. For so many, for so long, listening to Bright Eyes has been like hearing yourself in someone else’s song – a moment of understanding or illumination, knowing you’re on the same team looking for a way to move through of all this shit.

And while 2020 is a year of milestones for the band, it’s also the year Bright Eyes returns, newly signed to Dead Oceans. Amidst the current overwhelming uncertainty and upheaval of global and personal worlds, Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott reunited under the moniker as both an escape from, and a confrontation of, trying times. Getting the band back together felt right and necessary, and the friendship at the core of the band has been a longtime pillar of their output. For Bright Eyes, this long-awaited reemergence feels like coming home.