Skip to content
Bright Eyes plays the Observatory in Santa Ana on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Seen here, left to right, are Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and Nate Walcott. (Photo by Shawn Brackbill)
Bright Eyes plays the Observatory in Santa Ana on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Seen here, left to right, are Mike Mogis, Conor Oberst and Nate Walcott. (Photo by Shawn Brackbill)
Peter Larsen

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 9/22/09 - blogger.mugs  - Photo by Leonard Ortiz, The Orange County Register - New mug shots of Orange County Register bloggers.

When headed out on a world tour earlier this year, it was in many ways a reunion tour for the indie band from Omaha, Nebraska that went on hiatus in 2011 and took the rest of the decade off.

Though in truth, it shouldn’t have been that long, according to Nate Walcott, pianist, trumpeter, and arranger.

The idea to get back together as a band actually dates back to December 2017 during a Christmas party at Walcott’s Los Angeles home and a conversation with .

“We were celebrating at my house so long ago,” Walcott says recently. “Conor and I were talking about it, and it was getting late into the night. But you know, we’re celebrating. We were feeling good and having fun and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’

“We called Mike (Mogis, the third member of the band) on FaceTime and said, ‘Hey, Mike, we’re doing this!” he says. “It was all good. It was a good time.

“And I think the next morning, we think we woke up and said, ‘Are we for real?’”

They were, in fact, for real. Soon, the three booked studio time to start working on songs that eventually became their comeback album “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was.” Released in August 2020, Bright Eyes couldn’t take it on the road for obvious reasons.

But now, the tour reaches the Observatory in Santa Ana on Wednesday, Oct. 26, a few days after Bright Eyes plays the When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 22-23.

First looks

Singer-guitarist Oberst began writing songs as Bright Eyes as a 15-year-old guitarist in 1995, employing a rotating cast of collaborators and releasing his debut album in 1998. Within a few years, Oberst invited Walcott, just two years older, to play with him.

“When Conor started to invite more and more people to be a part of the touring lineup, my name came up,” he says. “This was in 2001 or 2002 for the ‘Lifted’ tour.

“I was very close with Mike at this point,” he says of Mogis, with whom he’d played in the band Lullaby for the Working Class. “So I suppose it was a pretty natural fit. And the rest is history.

“After the ‘Lifted’ tour, I said, ‘Hey, that was great, let’s do it again,” Walcott says. “I was doing every single tour to about 2005. That was when it became the lineup of three of us as the core members.”

The aughts were a busy decade for Bright Eyes, with six albums including 2005’s “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” the band’s biggest commercial success, and 2007’s “Cassadaga,” which reached No. 4 on the charts, the highest of any Bright Eyes record.

At the end of 2011, after touring for that year’s “The People’s Key,” the band decided to take a break. Oberst then released a handful of solo albums as well as his Better Oblivion Community Center collaboration with

Walcott toured with bands such as and , in addition to composing soundtracks, some with Mogis, such as the score to the film adaptation of the John Green novel “The Fault In Our Stars.”

Fresh eyes

At the time of that Christmas party conversation, the three Bright Eyes musicians were in good places to consider reviving the band, Walcott says.

“It was almost, I won’t say inevitable, but it didn’t seem like that much of a shock,” he says. “Things were winding down in several areas of our lives at the same time, so it seemed like the roads were converging at this spot of us getting back together.”

During the long break, they hadn’t been strangers, Walcott adds.

“We’d been working together over this during this break in different ways,” he says. “So I didn’t really feel like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get to know each other again.’ I had been working with Mike a lot, whether it was on film scores or whatever.

“And I had worked on Conor’s solo records just as sort of an arranger or player,” Walcott says. “Mike mixed at least one of his solo records, and they have shared backyards.”

That’s right: Oberst and Mogis live in Nebraska in homes so close their backyards meet. And Oberst’s place in Los Angeles is L.A.-close to Walcott’s.

“We’re not next door to each other,” he says. “But like an eight-minute drive at the right time of day, which in L.A. is like neighbors.”

The making of “Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was” took place in a different fashion than most past albums, Walcott says. Instead of Oberst coming to the studio with a collection of demos ready to be worked into finished songs, he just had one demo and a fragment of a second song this time.

“We decided to approach it a little differently,” he says. “I brought in some sketches of some musical ideas that we could turn into songs and we went about it in a different way.

“So there was this feeling of, Yeah, snapping back into it, but also kind of delving into the unknown in a new way, if that makes sense.”

Stage glances

By the time Bright Eyes reaches Santa Ana, it will have played about 70 shows this year in the United States and Europe.

“It’s been great. It’s been really fun,” Walcott says. “I think in some ways we really hit our stride in Europe in August. So I’m looking forward to these last couple of U.S. legs. The band has just continued to get better and better.”

At a Houston show in May, Bright Eyes made headlines for the kind of reasons no band wants to experience. Oberst walked off stage after two songs, leaving the rest of the band to briefly play Bright Eyes karaoke, inviting fans to sing as they played, before the show was canceled and refunds issued.

“I think I’m just gonna leave that one alone, if that’s OK,” Walcott says when asked about that night. “All I’ll say is, you know, touring is difficult. And we’ve been doing a lot this year, and there are occasionally bumps in the road.

“But I would say, we’re at our peak,” he says. “Like the last ones we did in Europe were the best shows we’ve ever done. As you know, we change up bands a lot. And I just, I feel like this is one of, if not the, best touring bands, we’ve had, at least in my 20 years in the band.

“So I’m looking forward to these shows. The crowds have been really nice and it’s been enjoyable to finally play this new material live after two years that we couldn’t play. Mostly it’s been really fun.”

Originally Published:

More in Music + Concerts