Better Oblivion Community Center is indie-rock perfection

Better Oblivion Community Center, a newly-formed musical duo composed of two of indie rock’s darlings, Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, played a show — which they refer to as a “meeting,” a play on the band’s name — at The Sinclair on March 28. Oberst, who has long enjoyed clout in the indie and alternative scene through his band Bright Eyes, which formed in 1995 and released its last album in 2011, teamed up with up-and-coming Bridgers, who rose to prominence following her 2017 debut, “Stranger in the Alps,” and subsequent participation in the indie supergroup boygenius. The two released their eponymous album in January to much critical acclaim, receiving a 7.7 rating on Pitchfork. Their fan base may be relatively small — the band amasses slightly under 600,000 monthly streams on Spotify — but is passionately devoted to the band, which was remarkably noticeable at the concert.

The show opened with Americana singer Christian Lee Hutson. Donned in a black turtleneck and carrying an acoustic guitar, Hutson’s set fell along the lines of a folksy coffeehouse jam. His musical style can best be described as a softer Cat Stevens with a modern, indie feeling. Hutson took breaks to crack jokes to the audience, most memorably remarking to the audience that, despite having three names, he is not a serial killer. His vocals ranged from stable country twangs, to powerful belts, to soft, accented falsetto, providing an engaging but mellow opening to the night.

Following Hutson was Chicago-based performer Lala Lala, who masterfully blended elements of dreamy bedroom pop, post-punk and synth-y alternative into a set that felt straight out of an underground house show. Lala played tracks off of her most recent LP, “The Lamb” (2018), which dissects themes of loss, mourning and evolution of the self, coupled with simple but beautiful melodies, creating a fresh, grungy musical experience. In short, her songs are the kind that feel like they belong perfectly in a critically-acclaimed indie coming-of-age film.

Following Lala Lala’s set, the venue buzzed with anticipation for the headlining act. The room became claustrophobically full with concert-goers who arrived in time to see Oberst and Bridgers, and chatter about the two filled the room. Fans discussed their excitement, expressing that they had been lifetime fans of Oberst, or that they are die-hard followers of Bridgers, and they were elated that two of their favorite artists had teamed up. It was evident that only a minority of the audience were passive listeners of the two, or had come to the show on a whim. These listeners could recite every lyric to the duo’s songs, and were committed to these artists. Nothing exemplified this quite like one fan near the front who started crying when the duo came out, remarking that she was overwhelmed by seeing “her husband.”

The set opened with a spoken-word poem, a ‘welcome’ to the Community Center, followed by Oberst and Bridgers walking out onto the neon-lit stage to manic applause. The two kicked off the show with the opening track “Didn’t Know What I Was in For” from their debut album. Bridgers‘ soft vocals filled the room during the first, acoustic verse, which flowed into the vocally robust chorus, where she was joined by Oberst’s vocals. The melancholic and reflective song was accompanied by the voices of dozens of audience members relaying the lyrics alongside the duo. Following was the more upbeat “Dylan Thomas,” which included an astonishingly impressive guitar solo Oberst, who somewhat arrogantly showed off his guitar skills.

The duo continued with tracks off their album until around halfway through the set, where they covered The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1985) and Bright Eyes’ “Lime Trees” (2007), much to the delight of those who had been longtime fans of Oberst.

Perhaps the most memorable song performed by Better Oblivion Community Center was the 12th song of the set, which Bridgers jokingly claimed  was a “new song” she “mostly wrote.” As soon as the opening notes of “Lua” (2005) by Bright Eyes played, die-hard fans began to lose their minds with excitement over hearing one of the band’s most iconic and emotional songs. While the previous songs had been met with the audience members energetically belting out lyrics, the performance of “Lua” cast an emotional, nostalgic feeling over the crowd, with members softly swaying in place to the gentle, doleful ballad.

The set closed with an energetic performance of “Funeral,” a track of Bridgers’ “Stranger in the Alps” (2017) and “My City,” a reflective track on their recent album. The pair returned for a three-song encore, playing songs by Bridgers, Oberst and Better Oblivion Community Center.

Immediately after the set, crowd members, high off of the thrill of the concert, immediately burst into conversation about the show’s excellence and hopes to see the duo again and beelined straight to the merch table.