Apparently, that Vote for Change tour really got to Conor Oberst. He opens his latest release, Four Winds, with a violin-fueled title track channeling a previously untapped inner Springsteen. The song feels like an outtake from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. as recorded with the gypsy band that backed Dylan on Desire,complete with a violin melody cribbed from The Boss' rendition of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." But even if what follows doesn't sound so much like Bruce, well, it doesn't sound much like Bright Eyes, either. There's something too restrained about the whole performance, from the way Oberst sings to the less imaginative band arrangements. Sure, he's been weeding his quirks for years now, but this six-song taste of what's to come on Cassadaga marks a major break with Oberst's former self. Which doesn't mean the record's bad. Just different, like when Dylan lost his sense of the absurd and got all serious. You miss the youthful spark, but it's hard to complain when the songs are as solidly crafted as the more inspired moments here, from "Reinvent the Wheel" to "Cartoon Blues." And it helps that the lyrics are frequently brilliant. Ed Masley
Bright Eyes performs on Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10, at Great American Music Hall at 9 p.m. Admission is sold out; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com for more info.