I had the opportunity to see Bright Eyes last year, and this album had been released at about the same time. It was nice to be able to compare the live show with a live recording, especially after just having seen him.
Conor is a great performer, and even though people tend to have a problem with his voice (which is true of a lot of great artists, Bob Dylan included) I thought his vocal delivery was perfect, both live and on this recording. It's his little inflections, dropped notes and small flaws that give his words and stories character. But he never missed a beat and you can tell he really loves doing what he does.
As well as Conor, Nate Walcott's horn and keys are essential in making these songs what they are, and on this recording you can hear how large of a part he plays in bringing the songs to life. And Bright Eyes guitarist/producer Mike Mogis is also a fantastic asset in this live setting. Conor tends to have a rotating lineup of players on tour with him, but his bands are always amazing together, and this one is no exception.
Someone mentioned their frustration with the songs chosen for this recording, and I will agree. There were a lot of songs I was hoping to hear live and didn't, but I'm sure there was a reason for the choices, and most of this material was pulled from "I'm Wide Awake...", as well as some covers and unreleased material. I thought the Feist cover was great, and Bright Eyes covering Elliott Smith? Awesome. Conor has admitted that Elliott was a huge influence, and it's always nice when artists pay homage to the greats. "True Blue" is a cute little song that I was glad made the cut, and "When the President Talks to God" was a must-have considering all that has happened since the Vote-for-Change tour, where Bright Eyes first unveiled the protest masterpiece.
The recording is good, and it's nice to finally have an official Bright Eyes live cd, however if you get the chance to see him live, I hope you do. If you can sit through the teenage girls yelling random things about impregnation, I think you'll see a great young songwriter who is well on his way to becoming a mainstay in contemporary folk/rock.
Now...to the people who would try to make arguments about that which they do not understand (i.e. some of the reviewers below): to compare Conor Oberst to Bob Dylan is a slap in the face...to Dylan. As great as he is, Conor is 25. Bob Dylan is an American songwriting legend, Bright Eyes is a kid. Though well on his way to being what Bob Dylan has been to a new generation, it is entirely impossible to hold the two together. Conor's vocal and instrumental abilies may not be the best, but it's what he is saying and doing that matters, not just how well his fingers are moving up and down the fret board. Sometimes it's the sloppiness that makes it special. And, lastly, "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" is not entirely political. There are plenty of songs that are personal experiences, or the experiences of others, with no politically charged elements, whatsoever. "Lua", "First Day Of My Life" (a love song, no doubt), and "Poison Oak" are, quite simply, well written songs about life.
Don't generalize. It's rude.