"Monsters of Folk unite," joked My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James as he and Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, strolled back onto the Paramount stage with folk singer M. Ward at the beginning of their Saturday night encore. At this moment, the full house of teenagers and their slightly older siblings rushed the stage, leaping over rows of theatre seats before the silver-haired ushers could do a thing to stop them. The three folkies promptly jumped into a rollicking version of Bright Eyes tune "Sing Sing Sing." It was the cap to an unorthodox evening of indie rock elegance, with Oberst serving as headliner, ringmaster, and heartthrob. The 24-year-old nu-folk prodigy has mothballed his occasional chamber pop entourage in favor of stripped-down acoustics, through which Oberst bled through painful and powerful epics such as "Waste of Paint" and "One Foot in Front of the Other." It was somewhat disappointing he didn't utilize such a theatrical venue for his serene orchestral arrangements, but the bare-bones structure allowed Oberst's poignant words to shine, and at least attendees in the front row sang every word of the almost three-hour show. "I was a camera until I went blind," he sang on "Train Underwater" as if to address the constant flashbulbs echoing through the theatre. Echoing better was James' voice throughout the evening. Solo and acoustic, his moody whir worked wonders throughout the Paramount as he requested no spotlight during a stirring take on his band's "The Bear." M. Ward opened the evening on his own, crafting rugged notes on a cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance." When the three of them jammed intermittently, they traded one another's work as well as their heroes' songs. Ward sang lead on Daniel Johnston's "Story of an Artist," while the country standard "Always on My Mind" was practically redefined with James' voice filling every verse. The show closer, Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country," allowed all three to share the mic like some sort of Crosby, Stills & Nash for emo kids. Maybe the label "Monsters of Folk" isn't such a joke in the end.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.