|Conor Oberst (Credit: Alyssa Schukar/The World-Herald)|
“Phil and Conor are playing at Krug Park tonight. Don’t tell too many people…”
That was the text I got at about 6 p.m. last night. The “Conor and Phil” in the text were, of course, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and Phil Schaffart, a member of Bright Eyes’ road crew and frontman of Omaha band Con Dios.
They were playing a secret show at 9 p.m. in Omaha.
Secret shows are a somewhat regular occurrence in locales such as New York where there are enough “name” bands to be able to fill small clubs and bars at a moment’s notice.
They’re not a regular thing in Omaha. Nope, they’re quite rare here even with our flourishing music scene.
I got to the small Benson bar as soon as I could, which wasn’t soon enough. By that time, “Krug Park” was already a trending topic locally on Twitter.
The bar was at capacity and by the time I arrived, a line had formed outside.
No one was leaving the bar, but we could hear Oberst croon “Lenders In The Temple” through the glass.
I laughed when a few teenagers walked down Maple St. and said, “Holy $#@&! Is that Conor Oberst?” They, too, lingered outside the bar for awhile to watch.
I eventually managed my way inside, though I could never get very close to Oberst. He was at the front of the long room and those relegated to the sidewalk could be clearly seen behind him the whole show.
Oberst waved to them and praised their willingness to sit out in the cool temps just to watch him sing.
He asked if the fans could hear him and then added “I’d like to apologize for the fire marshal. I’d like to apologize for him passing codes.” At the end of the concert, he added, “One more time for these sweet people who have been standing out here all might. That’s ridiculous.”
Inside the bar were a lot of parents, Saddle Creek Records employees, venue owners, festival organizers, musicians and friends of all of the above. It felt like very much like an insider crowd.
Unfortunately, I missed Phil Schaffart’s solo set. I really enjoy Schaffart’s band, Con Dios, and I was surprised by his songwriting ability when I first saw them considering I originally knew him as “that guy from Bright Eyes’ road crew.”
A few people told me the crowd talked so much during Schaffart’s set that Oberst got up several times to tell people to quiet down.
When Oberst got up to the mic, he started with several songs solo and was then joined by Ben Brodin on a huge glockenspiel, which added some melody. Orenda Fink also came up to sing vocals for a few songs.
Things really got going when Kaitlyn Maria Filippini joined Oberst to play fiddle on “Cape Canaveral,” one of my favorite songs from Oberst’s solo albums.
He played other songs (from his solo stuff, Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk) including “Ten Women,” “Laura Laurent,” “Map of The World,” “Classic Cars” and “Milk Thistle” (“a song about drinking yourself to death,” Oberst said).
The high point of the evening was “Make War,” which saw nearly everyone who was paying attention sing at the top of their lungs and dance around like it was a campfire song.
It was nearly impossible to see anything unless you were one of the lucky few who were right in front of Oberst. The sound in the room — other than a few spots of feedback (it’s a bar, not a rock club after all) — was fantastic though I could have gone for a little less from the crowd.
Though I don’t think anyone wanted him to stop, Oberst began to wind things down: “Thank you so much, guys. I’ve got two more songs left. It’s almost over. Then you’ll be able to just… to just talk to your friends.”
Oberst played “Milk Thistle” and then thanked Brodin, Filipinni and Fink before closing out the show with an older song, “Waste of Paint.”
It was a short show that lasted just more than two hours. But those of us there enjoyed the heck out of it, especially because we were in on the secret.