By Nathan Berrong
I have seen David Bazan, or some musical form of him (Pedro the Lion, Headphones), probably more than anyone else. I don’t know the exact number of times I have seen him, but it is definitely more than 10 and probably less than 15. I have seen him on stage sloppy and stumbling through songs, I have seen him perform with audio issues where his voice was barely recognizable, and then I’ve seen him perform where everything came together and he wowed the audience. This happened at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night as he took the stage at The EARL in East Atlanta. Bazan completely brought it and sang the hell out of his tunes and his band sounded tight and polished, lead by the intricate drumming of Alex Westcoat. He started his set with “Bless this Mess,” which is off his latest album, Curse Your Branches. It was easy to see from the first song that the next hour and half was going to be very loud, very noisy guitar driven, and very awesome.
The thing with David Bazan is, you never really know which version of him you’re going to see live. It could be the vulnerable/stripped down version of just him and his electric guitar. Or it could be a house show where he is playing in front of 30 people on an acoustic. Or maybe it’s the full band version of David Bazan, but for whatever reason, the songs are extremely slowed down and the ones that dealt with your ass off Control all of a sudden have a very awkward shoe gaze feel to them. Or maybe, like I did on this night, you get lucky, and you witness David Bazan, full band in tow, absolutely going for it and delivering the quintessential indie rock show. I think this is why Bazan can play Atlanta four times in a 12-month period, and still bring something new and different each time.
There are also the David Bazan live show constants: the solid black T-shirt and jeans, the question and answer time, people yelling out song titles (“Rapture”) only to get denied, the “Do you kiss your wife and kids with that mouth?” mouth, and Bazan’s puckered up facial expressions as he hits all the highs and lows with near-perfection. I find all of these annoying and endearing at the same time and I secretly look forward to them each time I catch his show.
The highlights of the show were the times Bazan added a little something musically to his older songs and made them seem new all over again. The addition of backing vocals by guitarist Blake Wescott and bassist Andy Fitts on the chorus of “Rehearsal” made for an incredible three-part harmony. “Indian Summer” had a math rock makeover and Bazan ended his set with an extended (jam session) version of “Band with Managers,” the lead track off Pedro the Lion’s final (?) album, Achilles Heel.
My only complaints were the lack of movement from guitarist Blake Wescott, which has made him such a fascinating person to watch in the past, and how Bazan updated his vocals on the song “The Fleecing,” to reflect his new-found belief in not believing (in God). The original version is, “I could tell you all about it. I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I still believe it. And why I need it. And what the Pharisees don’t see.” and he changed it to, “ I could tell you all about it. I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I don’t believe it. And why I grieve it. How I was blind but now I see.” I feel a little cheated when someone takes something great, in this case a song lyric, and changes it to make a new statement about who they are. This kind of nonsense reminds me of what Bazan has tried to distance himself from his entire career – mainstream Christianity. Look no further than The Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” which found a revival of sorts in the early ’90s when Christians changed the lyrics and rebranded the song, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh”. It should be against the law!
Petty criticisms aside, David Bazan and his band brought their A-game and played their bearded hearts out. Next time he’s in Atlanta, do yourself a favor and check him out.