“Would you call this a supergroup?” comes a voice from behind. It’s a group, consisting of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers ably assisted by their band, and they are super, so, yeah.
Their origins are from back in 2017 when Oberst added vocals to a track on Phoebe’s debut LP, Stranger in the Alps and henceforth a beautiful friendship and collaboration was born.
The result was Better Oblivion Community Center, the album and the band, and here we are in West London to bare witness to their musical offspring.
Most, if not all of the record is played tonight, alongside a handful each of their solo material, which is at least begun by the opposite musician; in every way a stark contrast to the original. Conor’s All American deep drawl and Phoebe’s exquisite songbird voice are poles apart but compliment like a bride in her dress.
The biggest departure is when Conor starts Bridgers’ heart-breaking ‘Funeral’ sped up and all distorted guitars and thunderous drums, a world away from the minimal sad lament. The killer line “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time” sounds sarcastic and this was probably the intention. Turn it on its head as a parody, it loses its sting.
In turn, Phoebe takes centre stage for the Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst’s alter ego) staple ‘Lua’ adding a new dimension to the sad, lonely lyrics and also on the epic ‘Limetree’.
Indeed, the pair are undoubtedly at their best when they are in tandem, be it on their collaborative compositions or dueting on their individual songs. Stripped back, stark, sometimes just A Capella harmonies, no better than on that first track together ‘Would you Rather’ a perfect call and response “Come to find out/I’m a can on a string, you’re on the end”. They sparkle on ‘Service Road’ and ‘Chesapeake’ when it’s just them and a guitar. Sometimes in the more band orientated numbers, one or the other gets lost in the furore.
More than anything, it’s an exhibition in supreme, simple song writing. The fact that there is only one record that bears the name Better Oblivion Community Center means they get to experiment with each others songs and the encore balances them with the exquisite ‘Scott Street’ followed by ‘Easy/Lucky/Free’, before closing on the albums final song ‘Dominoes’.
The difference between the two is Phoebe’s understated emotion in her voice. Conor is raw, and his angst and anguish pours out, but Bridgers is almost trying not to let herself succumb. Her’s is hypnotic and intoxicating, beauty as obvious and stark as it comes. Oberst you can replicate, sing along with, shout along with. The contrast maybe shouldn’t work but does and that is down to them being masters at crafting and rearranging the song.
As with the rest of the tour they have been slipping in a cover and they dedicate a special version of The Magnetic Fields ‘All the Umbrellas in London’ to the Shepherds Bush crowd.
It’s a whirlwind tour of the British Isles. Just three stops in Bristol, London and Manchester then a hop over to Dublin before they’re homeward bound.
Who knows if we’ll ever see this again. Two friends make a record and the world falls in love. They’ll have solo records to write and release but one day we might get to gather again at a meeting of the Better Oblivion Travelling Community Center.