Hog's Back Park, Ottawa - August 27, 2011

DENIS ARMSTRONG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:03 AM ET

OTTAWA - Bright Eyes is back.

After a three-year sabbatical, Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, returned to his mischievous glory to headline the Folk Festival on Saturday night.

One of the most elusive yet articulate writers of suburban despair, Nebraska native Oberst caught some of us older fans off-guard, opening with two plaintive gems from 2004’s I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning album, Another Travelin’ Song and Old Soul Song.

Man, no one does doom and gloom like Bright Eyes. On paper, he has a delicate, overly sensitive touch, but in concert, the guy’s a whirling dervish of reckless emotion that makes for a pretty compelling experience, punctuating every song with awkward pauses, poses and primal screams.

But with a new album, The People’s Key, on the shelves, this enfant terrible of American popular music proved that he could be all business, too, mixing old favourites and some of his better new songs. Backed by longtime partners Mike Mogis on trumpet and keys and Nate Walcott as well on keys, bass and drums, Bright Eyes rocked the estimated 6,000 fans around the CUPE stage with a surefooted set of power pop including Take It Easy, Love Nothing, Jejune Stars, Lover I Don’t Have To Love, Shell Games and Landlocked Blues.

Folk, it ain’t. But it is music that speaks directly to younger fans.

“What do you guys think about the future, pretty scary, huh? Well, it’s always been that way, but we’ll figure it out,” the taciturn Oberst told the crowd before playing Poison Oak and Road To Joy for his encore.

One of the “it” shows of the festival, Tom Morello was well-positioned to draw a healthy Saturday evening crowd. The problem for the former Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitar-man was keeping them. A wonderful talent with a big heart, Morello’s sound was so loud, it sent dozens of Folkfest fans headed for more tranquil climes, such as Basia Bulat over at the RavenLaw stage.

“You can play folk music on any instrument as long as you play it for FOLKS,” declared Morello before opening his set with It Begins Tonight, from his new album with The Watchman, World Wide Rebel Songs. I don’t remember ever needing ear plugs at a folk concert.

But if Morello’s thunderous volumes and take-no-prisoners righteous vibe is your thing, then Morello’s set lived up to the hype, with a polished show of militant, socially conscious rock, including Stray Bullets, Union Town, Whatever It Takes, Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine and later, a spectacular cover of Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad.


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