Wishing their hearts had ears, bouncing on the balls of their feet
PREVIEW A little more than a year ago, a "too-pretty-to-refuse-you" friend dragged me to a Bright Eyes concert. I remember almost nothing of the group's set, and I wasn't the drunk one. Connor Oberst, so hipster-slim you know he's a lightweight, strutted on stage, Corona in hand, his stage presence as deflated as his sound, unsure of the notes in his repertoire's half-octave range. His reputation as a talented musician debunked, he nevertheless justified his holding the helm at the label he founded, Saddle Creek, judiciously booking Oakland locals Port O'Brien as his opening band. Oberst isn't the only A&R man with his eyes on O'Brien just last year the band toured Europe with Modest Mouse, and for good reason.
With a quivering-lip, about-to-cry delivery held in common with Oberst, O'Brien frontman Van Pierazalowski sings log-cabin laments to the supporting sounds of soft-pedaled piano, back-porch banjo, and guitar strums. When drummer Joshua Barnhart turns on his snare, tightens his drumheads and polishes his crash cymbals, the sound morphs into an Appalachian anthem, the folk instrumentation swallowed by vocals sung together by the audience and the entire band. O'Brien leaves its audience members wishing their hearts had ears in one instant, and bouncing on the balls of their feet, arms held high and voices raised in song the next. If Oberst specializes in wrist-slitting emo, O'Brien cleans the wounds with a fusion of old-wives witch hazel and indie antiseptic sting: modern moonshine melodies to shout and sob our separate ways to catharsis.
PORT O'BRIEN With the Builders and the Butchers. Fri/11, 9:30 p.m., $12. Café Du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com