On April 2nd, Christian Lee Hutson, Lala Lala, and Better Oblivion Community Center took to the stage to put on what turned out to be an incredible show for a sold-out crowd at Union Transfer. Although these are three distinct artists, they complimented each other’s styles very well. The flow from act to act was great.
First on the bill was Christian Lee Hutson. Hutson is definitely in the mold of early Elliott Smith, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and even his tourmate, Conor Oberst. He is very talented on the guitar, has a beautiful, melancholic voice, and writes wonderful, sometimes humiliatingly depressing lyrics and melodies. It takes a lot of bravery to go onto any stage by yourself, but he only thrived under this pressure. His performance, like his music, was impeccable. Hutson appeared in all three sets, showcasing not only his ability but his sense of humor throughout the night.
Lala Lala is an overtly indie band from Chicago. Their sound is somewhat subdued and synth-heavy, as you might expect from an indie band in 2019. That being said, Lala Lala draws from the pulsating rhythms of new-wave in several of their songs, which is one of the qualities that sets them apart from the rest. Additionally, Lala Lala made frequent use of sample triggers during their set. Singer Lillie West also used a vocal processor which enabled her to harmonize with herself. Although this led to some dissonant moments, it added a great deal of substance to what was a very full sounding performance. Lala Lala transitioned very well from Hutson and perfectly set the stage for the headliners.
Better Oblivion Community Center is without a doubt one of the best collaborations in the last 30 years. Their self-titled album is also among the best of the decade. Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, after touring together, started writing songs together without any bigger purpose in mind. They just kept writing and writing and eventually, they had an album. The songs are absolutely fantastic, blending upbeat instrumentation with somber lyrics. Their inexplicable chemistry and artistic understanding amplify the experience of each song. Better Oblivion Community Center’s performance was electric; they incorporated aggression into their sound, which resulted in slightly heavier renditions of their music. This was perfect because it made the songs simultaneously familiar and fresh. They also played a handful of songs from Phoebe Bridgers’ solo album. They once again added grit to these songs, such as the pristine “Scott Street.” They transformed the quiet and mournful “Funeral” into a Titus Andronicus-esque punk song. Also, Oberst sang Bridgers’ songs, which admittedly was odd, but definitely enjoyable.
The night before this show, they covered “Shallow” from the movie A Star is Born which makes so much sense. They have the same chemistry that Jack and Ally do—and the age gap is probably close too—but the difference is that Phoebe and Conor actually exist. Both of them are profound songwriters and this performance was an indication not only of that but that their songs offer an honest, vulnerable reflection of their understanding of humanity.