While standing in line at Oberst's solo show last Thursday, a friend of mine overheard a group of teenage girls--who had been following Conor Oberst on his short-but-sweet tour--as they took turns adding Conor's last name to their first names ("Nicole Oberst," "Kaitlyn Oberst" ... ) and savoring the sound. At other shows, I've overheard girls proclaim Conor to be their "soul mate." And looking around at the ArtsCenter that evening, I noticed something unusual for a Chapel Hill concert--the audience was overwhelmingly female.Why do the ladies love Oberst, Bright Eyes' indie-savant? His slightly androgynous looks? The way his tousled hair falls in his face? The mischievous, maniacal gleam in his eyes? Maybe, but I think what really makes 'em wriggle in their panties is the same reason we've all fallen for a dark, brooding manic depressive: We want somebody to save.
Not that I'm immune to this phenomenon. The first time I saw Bright Eyes (several years ago) my initial impulse was to give Conor a hug and tell him that everything was going to be OK. That first show seemed part high- school lit-mag meeting and part tent revival--I half expected him to speak in tongues. Since then, I've seen Conor enough times to question the authenticity of his palsied antics. He shakes; he quivers; he throws oranges. He's pretentious in the way that precocious children of doting parents are: He believes we care about his tear-and-whiskey-stained life. And he makes us believe we care, too.
However, on stage by himself this tour, his mania was tempered; he seemed sweet, thoughtful and shy. After a couple of songs he left the stage to grab his black and white composition notebook and left it open at his feet--the perfect metaphor for this strangely intimate and subdued performance--like listening to a friend read his journal. And when the crowd broke their attentive silence, calling for "Something Vague" from Fevers and Mirrors, Conor responded that he could play a song with "some of the same chords." His new guitar was giving him trouble, too, and eventually he asked the audience if they cared whether it was in tune or not. They didn't. Although he did tremble in his chair, the closest he came to a fit was when he accidentally kicked over his Budweiser on the last song, growing visibly concerned as he watched the beer soak into the carpet while he finished playing.
It was another, younger Oberst who stole the show. Conor's cherubic, toddling nephew waddled onstage halfway through the set, toward the open arms of his uncle. A hundred flash bulbs went off as there followed a discernable and collective female swoon over both the baby and the boy--he's cute; he's sensitive and he likes children.
The new songs "Waste of Paint" and "Laura Laurent" were poignant and smart with a good amount of screaming and stomping. But when he tried to sing about politics, in a song he dedicated to his brother, his words failed him. As a scab-picking poetic prodigy, Conor is at his best when he channels Holden Caufield, not Bob Dylan. He's a truly gifted chronicler of his own pain, confusion and heartbreak, and by extension that of hundreds of confused and heartbroken kids--his precious poetry is much more effective when he's taking it out on himself, not the world.
Mobb Deep (Promotional Tour)
Thursday, Nov. 29
Crabtree Marriott, Raleigh
It's hard to believe that Mobb Deep has been on the national rap music scene since 1993. To look at them, you'd swear that both Havoc and Prodigy were still in high school--maybe college freshmen at the most. But the New York duo from Queensbridge has been dropping gems in the rap game for 10 years now, and with the release of their fifth CD, Infamy, the infamous ones look to take yet another step in putting the game on lockdown. The Independent caught up with Mobb Deep last Thursday at the Crabtree Marriott. As we sat in the hotel lobby, the two, although a bit weary from life on the road, discussed their new CD, how they came to be and what it takes to make it in the music business.
The Independent: So what brings you guys to the Triangle?
Havoc: We're here to promote the new album. We're doing radio and we're gonna hit Smokehouse Records before we head out to Chicago.
Tell us about the album. What makes this one different from your previous joints?
Prodigy: It's different because it's new. It's a new year and we've been in the game for 10 years, so all of our albums is different. If you know us and our track record, you know that's the only real way [there's a difference]. It's still the same Mobb shit that niggas is used to.
Is there anything that stands out on this CD that might make fans feel you went in another direction?
Havoc: Nah, I don't think you're gonna see another direction. It's like basically the same Mobb message. It's about the streets. And the relationships with the streets. Females, women, friends, enemies, all of the above and more.
Did you guys respond to anyone this time around who dissed you? Or did you let it slide and just try to make your music?
Prodigy [laughing]: Oh yeah, we responded. It's definitely all on there.
So who are some of the acts you collaborated with on this new joint?
Havoc: We collaborated with 112, and Li'l Mo and we did a song with Ron Isley, Mr. Biggs. And as far as producers go, we got Eazy LP, Scott Storch and Alchemist, who's like family to us.
A lot of people don't know that you guys have been around for a minute. How did you hook up to form Mobb Deep?
Prodigy: Being in high school together, we used to go through all the battling shit in the lunch room and then we used to do the talent shows and just going through all that, we just grew tight. We started cutting out of school, doing demos together at our man's crib everyday. We started doing songs everyday. And things just kinda took off.
What have you learned after being in the game for 10 years as both business people and entertainers?
Havoc: Business-wise, you have to be on top of business. You gotta be fully aware of what's going on from the smallest thing to the biggest thing. As far as the entertainment part, you just gotta make your music and be you. Fuck what everybody else says. You know people will try to steal your music in a business direction and take your way of being creative. You just have to be you and remember why you came into the business in the first place, because you love the music and be genuine about it.
Where do you guys see yourselves 10 years from now?
Prodigy: Ten years from now? Maybe we might still be doing this shit if we keep fuckin' around with it long enough.
Havoc: We intend to be on the top of the world. It's a long road to success, but we've been on this road for a minute and we don't plan on getting off of it. At the end of the road, we plan on being on top.
I'm sure you guys have discovered that everything in showbiz isn't what it's cracked up to be. A lot of people look at your videos and think you guys are just living it up. What would you tell someone who's new in the business and has that star-gazed look in their eyes about the industry?
Prodigy: To just take your time. You gotta move slowly in this business.
Havoc: In this business, patience is a virtue. A very big virtue. If you don't have patience, then just get out of the business.
Prodigy: No doubt. It's a long road to success and it don't come easy.
That says a lot, considering both you guys were like 16, 17 years old when you started out.
Havoc: It even took us a minute from when we first started. We did the things that people wouldn't imagine doing nowadays. Like doing the talent shows and the little things. People today just wanna get on and get put on TV, but it's a process. You gotta pay some dues when you're in this business.
--GABRIEL M. RICH