Published on April 21st, 2022

In the last decades of the 20th Century it was a rite of passage for every folk-ish singer-songwriter with a modicum of success to be dubbed the next Bob Dylan. At the turn of the century, possibly the last person to be tagged with that weighty handle was Conor Oberst, the frontman and mastermind of Bright Eyes. Nobody’s ever lived up to the expectations of cultural relevancy that a young Dylan in 1960s America had, but Oberst and Bright Eyes have checked off at least one box in Dylanesque career repertory: mastering the art of the devastating protest song.

While Dylan had the war in Vietnam to sneer at, Bright Eyes came of musical age during this country’s tragic misadventure in Iraq. Out of that came Oberst’s beautiful “Land Locked Blues,” where in between the blare of a horn he duetted with Emmylou Harris, reciting poignant lyrics that could be anti-war or anti-fighting-with-your-lover, with the simple refrain of “If we walk away, they’ll walk away.”

The rage was more frontal in the depressingly humorous “When the President Talks to God,” regarding former President George W. Bush’s claim that he made executive decisions in consultation with the Almighty. “When the President talks to God/Do they drink beer and go play golf,” Oberst queried. “While they pick which countries to invade/Which Muslim souls still can be saved?”

Bright Eyes’ first batch of songs in nearly a decade, 2020’s “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was,” are laced with further social commentary. But a standalone single, “Miracle of Life,” contains his sharpest barbs. With help from co-singer Phoebe Bridgers and bassist Flea, Oberst imagines a poor pregnant woman living in an era of back-alley abortions. “This song should not exist in 2020 America,” he said at the time. And while we don’t know for sure what Dylan did with his earnings from “Masters of War,” all proceeds from “Miracle of Life” were directed to Planned Parenthood.

Bright Eyes perform 8pm Friday May 27 at the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. ~ David Rolland