Better Oblivion Community Center at Music Box by Christine Heyne for ListenSD

Better Oblivion Community Center

Better Oblivion Community Center seems an odd choice for a band name, but what are concerts if not communal therapy sessions helping us to deal with encroaching oblivion?

The line-up’s unique mixing of acoustic, indie rock, and psychedelic theater meant that every attendee’s cathartic needs were to be attended for in the musical feast to come.

Reminiscent of a twangier, blonder Elliott Smith, Christian Lee Hutson was soft-spoken and reserved. Armed only with voice and guitar, he seemed to prefer letting his music do the talking for him. Peppered throughout his performance were small, pithy comments displaying an incisive, dry wit; I was amused by him thanking the audience “for being so quiet”.

Aside from his strangely hypnotic stage presence, Christian Lee Hutson gave a subtly stellar music performance, mixing finger-picking mastery with a gentle, pure voice. The demonstration of his vocal precision and imaginative chord progressions on Northsiders was especially impressive. Perhaps best suited for a night at home lamenting the persistent pain of existence, Hutson’s music nevertheless had the audience enthralled from start to finish.

Shifting gears from minimal to overkill, Sloppy Jane took to the stage in all their chaotic glory. Sloppy Jane are not your normal band, and this was not your normal show. Their 10 performers spread across the stage, and what followed can only be described as music meets noise meets performance art. The center of attention was Haley Dahl – the lead singer and guitarist – as she disrobed on stage and thrashed around on the floor with blue blood spewing from her mouth. She also sang a bit. The highlight for me was Dahl playing the role of conductor in Kitchen Floor, directing the intensity of the music in ebbs and flows.

Enthralling though Dahl’s antics were, I think the performer who best sums out Sloppy Jane’s ethos is their multi-instrumentalist percussionist – Bailey Blu. They jumped between instruments all performance – from xylophone to trumpet to slide whistle, and more. The cowboy hat was pretty tight, too. The ethos? Play all of the instruments, defy expectations, and do it with style.

Closing the show was a performance from Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst – together, Better Oblivion Community Center. Typically restrained and composed, Phoebe Bridgers seems the antithesis of Sloppy Jane. It’s hard to imagine that she played bass for them in years past! Nevertheless, some of Sloppy Jane’s energy must have remained if the vitality of Better Oblivion’s performance is any indication. Recordings of Better Oblivion Community Center are enjoyable and catchy, but their live performance well exceeded my expectations.

There was a dynamism to their performance somewhat lacking from their self-titled album. Whispered vocals transitioned to rock-out sessions; backing guitar from Christian Lee Hutson lent depth through a layering of pickwork; Conor Oberst danced across the stage with the energy of an expert performer. The highlight was a pop of nostalgia as Better Oblivion gave a cover of Lua from Oberst’s former project, Bright Eyes. Brilliant vocalists on their own, together, Bridgers and Oberst make an unstoppable duo.

Better Oblivion Community Center released their debut, self-titled album in January of this year. If you haven’t heard it yet, catch a sample of it here.

Review by: Sam Gaffney
Photos by: Christine Heyne

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