David Bazan at Fine Line Music Cafe, 11/6/12
Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
David Bazan's election night show at the Fine Line came as a welcome reprieve after a long evening of watching analysts bicker back and forth with each other on CNN. The gimmick of Bazan's tour is that he plays his best-loved album -- 2002's Control, released under the moniker Pedro the Lion -- in its entirety and thankfully he and his band managed to completely avoid projecting a quasi-reunion tour vibe that often comes when a band tours in support of an old album instead of a new one.
The first notes of Control's opening track "Options" sounded as fresh as ever. More potent even, considering that Control is a particularly fantastic critique of American consumerism and the disconnected backwardness of our own culture. Hearing songs bearing the cadence of sirens singing after months of being beaten over the head with he-said-she-said attack ads, projections, and polling data was fitting.
The atmosphere was tense. The venue was packed with nervous twentysomethings glued to their smart phones repeatedly hitting refresh even after the first half of Control raged on. Though stripped down to a three-piece, the slower songs had added emotional resonance in the absence of synthesizers and the louder jams like came out way more muscular than they ever sounded on the record.
In a fun and welcome twist, Control was split into Side A and Side B with a the middle third of the set being made up of a handful of songs cherry picked from Bazan's hefty discography. There were a couple of tracks from Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel and one from It's Hard to Find a Friend, a couple of tracks from David Bazan's solo albums (though Pedro the Lion was basically David Bazan's solo project in the first place, and David Bazan tours with a backing band thus making it confusing for everyone), and even a tune from his one-off synth-pop band Headphones.
As is the standard protocol of David Bazan's live shows, he occasionally paused to ask the audience if they had any questions. Come for the music, stay for the banter, that's what I always say. Though he seemed as anxious as everyone else about the election, he delivered some bizarre, mostly entertaining gems. When asked why he decided to tour on an album that was ten years old he mentioned that they were re-releasing all of the Pedro the Lion albums and Control was the only one he could stomach playing all the way through.
When the questioner pressed, clearly trying to get him to say "yeah yeah, it's politically relevant and it's election night" it led into a particularly lucid tirade where he may or may not have referred to the current crop of Republicans as "fuckwits" (maybe "fuckwads," definitely something along those lines), called Sarah Palin a dumb bitch, and then, perhaps realizing that he was kind of wholly out of line with that last remark and probably isolated the whole female contingent audience-wise, proceeded to sing the praises of newly elected Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and noted that men should be disenfranchised for ten years and let the ladies have a go of it.
Then some people started shouting that Obama had been reelected and the whole place seemed to loosen up if only because it was over and life would resume normally from that moment forward. Couples held each other arm in arm, bros high fived and ordered more Grain Belt tallboys, and Bazan enthusiastically laid into the raucous second half of Control. And this time, people audibly sang along to the somewhat disturbing songs of heartbreak, cheating and revenge.
The dirge-like climax of Control, "Second Best," was the highlight of the evening. Over the six to seven minutes the song took up, Bazan, bassist Andy Fitts and Drummer Alex Westcoat achieved the sort of synergy you don't typically expect from a solo artist and his touring band. These guys work as a unit, and on a song like "Second Best" where the bass has to provide an undercurrent of doom for the impending plot point that comes on the concept album's next song, "Priests and Paramedics," and a precision drum fill tips the whole story of the song over on its head while Bazan's lyrics conjure what could be the most sorrowful tale of infidelity ever sung. Sure, the song is sad as hell, but it looked like those guys were going to melt up there lost in a sea of power chords and fog from the hyperactive fog machine, and that kind of pure bliss rocking out is always a positive thing in a live setting.
It was a weird way to spend election night, but on paper seeing a songwriter I really admire play the album that made me recognize his admirable qualities in the first place is a bit more rewarding than sitting on the couch pretending there are any real surprises left in American politics (I.E. "Ooo, Obama won Vermont! I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!" or "Kansas goes red again! WHO KNEW?!"). It was much more fun to stand in a crowd watching a band play a great album to an audience who came to see that great album get played and played well and in new and surprising ways at that. Of course there was the obligatory and obnoxious request for a Prince cover, but it couldn't ruin what a remarkably solid night of bearded-dude rock.
Gas and Matches
Cold Beer and Cigarettes
How I Remember
When They Really Get To Know You, They Will Run
Priests and Paramedics
Critic's Bias: I have a fierce love of concept albums, and had never seen one played in a live setting, so...
Notebook Dump: Is the Fine Line's fog machine broken? Does it have a sensor that goes "Not enough fog! Better crap out some more and fast!" before unleashing an ungodly amount of fog into the room?
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