On first glance, Manchester Cathedral doesn’t look the most likely place to put on gigs. One girl in the queue actually asks, “would God approve of this?”, but with music bringing about a sense of belonging and community, it isn’t such a far stretch from religion in my mind.The crowd is an odd mix of people, ranging from middle class suit wearers just out of work, hipster students trying to outdo each other, and musicaficionados just wanting to hear the bands. But one thing does unite everyone, the love of music and the near desperation for Conor Oberst to play.
First at the pulpit is Dawes. Their soaring guitar solos remind me of ‘My Morning Jacket’. Although there are a few die-hard fans singing along, the rest of the crowd just doesn’t seem to be won over. This is a band with power and energy but they just don’t seem to be connecting with the majority of the crowd. Not sure if the lack of atmosphere is anything to do with the band personally, or if it’s down to the venue itself.
With the crowd so eager to see him, Conor Oberst has them in the palm of his hand before even stepping foot onstage. Within the first song he manages to whip the crowd into a frenzy. They clamber closer to the stage, clinging to each other, in hope of being nearer. His voice sounds like heart-breaking desperation, occasionally cracking on notes and tripping on words in his haste to get his feelings out. The feeling and presence is there in abundance though.
The atmosphere is almost tangible with the crowd swaying back and forth, singing every word at the top of their lungs. Some even begin to cry, overwhelmed by everything. This is clearly not just a gig but an emotional rollercoaster for some. Oberst himself plays like a man possessed, writhing around as if the music is too much for him to bear and must get it out in any way possible. The whole things seems suitably fitting for the venue; with the lighting bathing him in an eerie shadow, Oberst looks like a preacher commanding his congregation. His voice reaches every corner and echoes throughout the cathedral leaving everyone captivated.
‘Desert Island Questionnaire’ sounds akin to a battle cry, the words being almost spat out into the world for all to hear. With ‘Lua’ bringing the audience to a standstill with everyone silent as it’s delivered similar to a sermon. The members of Dawes, who are Oberst’s band for this tour, give the set such a grand and sweeping feel that it’s hard not to get caught up and go along with it.
His latest album, ‘Upside Down Mountain’, is out now on Nonesuch Records.
*picture credit: Butch Hogan