BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER + SLOPPY JANE @ THE TERAGRAM BALLROOM
Photos by Stephanie Port Words by Kristy Landis
“This song will play on TV in like half an hour” Phoebe Bridgers said casually in the middle of the set before launching into the song “Sleepwalkin.'”
Despite only existing a very short time, Better Oblivion Community Center was able to captivate a sold-out crowd for a second evening at The Teragram Ballroom with a set full of new, original songs and apparently even hitting the late night circuit as well. This brand new band’s tight and entertaining show was thanks to the two, not-so-new names leading it–indie veteran Conor Oberst and “hometown hero” (as Oberst put it) Phoebe Bridgers. Better Oblivion’s set brought everything you would expect from a show with these two heavy hitters – sad, introspective songs, big guitars, and an appearance from a famous friend (this time Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
BOCC’s set was fast-paced with barely any breaks between songs. They performed their entire self-titled debut album–a surprise release in January–and one new song, “Little Trouble” available on their new 7-inch. These songs put the best of both Bridgers and Oberst on display. His brooding, rougher vocals harmonized beautifully with her bright belt. His wilder, sometimes frantic guitar style balanced well against her calmer, relaxed playing. With collaborations there can be a danger of imbalance between the two artists, one often overpowering the other’s sound. Not with this pair. Bridgers and Oberst were one, never clashing against one another. The two have an obvious chemistry and after having collaborated together before on Bridgers’ song “Would You Rather,” and touring together while Bridgers supported Oberst’s band, it seemed like they’ve got sharing the stage down to a science. Go team!
They began the set the same way their album starts–easing in slowly with “Didn’t Know What I Was in For.” The tempo then turned up as they played two odes to LA, “Big Black Heart” and “My City.” During “Forest Lawn,” the dynamic duo put their guitars down to lounge in beach chairs on stage, while beach balls were launched into the crowd. During their single “Dylan Thomas,” Zinner was featured on guitar and then kept showing up on stage periodically for the rest of the night.
One highlight of the evening was when Bridgers sang the opening line to the Bright Eyes hit “Lua” and Oberst turned Bridgers’ quiet, mournful single “Funeral” into a heavy rock song that they should really put out on an EP. Another highlight came during the encore when Oberst unknowingly mixed up the lyrics of Bridgers’ “Scott Street” and she couldn’t contain her laughter as she played guitar. Ah, those two.
The city of Los Angeles was front and center throughout the show. As an LA native, Bridgers has brought the city into the lyrics of many Better Oblivion songs and they also brought two local artists on stage with them as openers. Christian Lee Hutson, who played guitar during Better Oblivion’s performance, opened with a short acoustic set that he ironically described as a bunch of “fucking rock songs.”
One would not expect a punk rock band to open for Better Oblivion, but not surprising local band Sloppy Jane did since Bridgers was once a member. A loud mix of punk, noise rock, blues and country melded together to create a set that felt more like performance art than a punk gig. Lead vocalist and founder Haley Dahl never bores. She began by spitting blue dye all over herself and continued the show by spending an amount equal time singing or playing guitar and writhing about the stage.
The three sets could not have been more different, but they were linked together through past (and probably future) collaborations. Bridgers even told a story about going to high school with Dahl who used to tease her for being such a big Conor Oberst fan. It seems like that fandom paid off.
In an homage to Bridgers’ and Oberst’s somewhat strange band name choice, the stage backdrop had a huge drawing of a community center and right about the door was the phrase “It will all end in tears.” There were no tears at the Better Oblivion Community Center show on stage or in the crowd, so one can hope the end for this duo is not near.