I personally think that David Bazan’s most recent album Curse Your Branches is the best thing he’s ever done. Oh sure, I’ve been a deep fan since the first EP Whole with his original group name Pedro The Lion, a meditation on what William Burroughs called the “algebra of need” back in a heroin-destroyed Seattle music scene of the mid-late 90s. It’s Hard To Find A Friend is one of the best albums of the 90s, in my opinion.
But I haven’t always been fond of Bazan’s more conceptual work (though I admired it), and was a little burned out on him before seeing him perform songs from Curse Your Branches just before it came out (on Barsuk) at a benefit for beloved late local musician John Spalding (LoveLand) a couple of years back. Now, all his satirical venom, melancholy questioning, and awesome vulnerability were being poured into specific classics of songs like side-starters “Hard To Be” and “When We Fell” (two sides of the same coin raging against the story of Eden).
Whatever tiredness or anxiety you may have heard in Bazan’s struggle during the 00s in concert or on disc, his post-Bush administration live performances are as skilled, insouciant, and sweet as the beauties found on last year’s Curse Your Branches. Come see why Paste Magazine put him so high up on the list of their 100 greatest songwriters, and prepare yourself for the unexpected pleasures of artistic progress. This master craftsman and curmudgeon has come back strong.
Bazan opened up his Music Lounge performance with his trademark brutal honesty, playing”Bless This Mess” which captures the whole theme of criticism and questioning of his lost faith and alcoholism. The blues riffs and harmonies helped give a classic rock feel to modern skepticism, a bitter and wonderful combination.
The band tended to favor upbeat tracks with dark thoughts and images. “Transcontinental” from Pedro the Lion’s album Achilles Heel, about a man getting his legs cut off by a train and bleeding to death, was almost danceable with fantastic grooves on the bass and rushing drum lines. As Bazan sang the words to “I Do” his face contorted and squinted with each thoughtful word of ache. The bass and slow, passionate guitar lines accentuated Bazan’s pleas and questions. Bazan also took time in the set for his trademark question and answer period, opening up the floor for audience members to ask him questions.
The set tended to favor tracks from Bazan’s earlier career in Pedro the Lion as he followed with “Start Without Me’” and “Indian Summer.” The short moments where the band fades out with just Bazan paying guitar give a power showcase of his lyricism that is even more heightened when the band comes back in.
The palm muted introduction to “Please Baby Please” with tambourine and back-up oo’s and ah’s differed from the folksy feel of the song on the original recording but had everyone bobbing there heads and gave even more irony to the words Bazan was singing. As with most of the songs he played at the lounge, the lyrics are harsh, beautiful, and hard to take in. The musicianship was at its apex in this song as it constantly felt like it was building up, released at the bridge, then building up again till the end.
“How I Remember,” from Bazan’s solo EP “Fewer Moving Parts” was one of the grittiest songs played in the performance. From the opening riff, the song had the feeling of a pissed off rock song. Any song that discusses people being “beaten, bound and gagged” as well as “he who roots for a fight” definitely has some angst to it. When Bazan sang the guitar solo on the track, it truly was a great moment.
Bazan and the crew finished up with “Bands With Managers.” Slowly Bazan played the first chords and held out hte lines longer than usual and slowly they rose the beat until the end was powerful and sentimental. Wailing he exclaimed “It won’t be alright” repeated. Bazan has proved himself time and again that he is one of the most thought provoking artists in the scene right now.