Monday, April 9, 2012

Performance Review: Dave Bazan

On Monday, March 5, 2012, Dave Bazan played a house show in East Nashville, and I was there…

Typically I try and write my performance reviews within a day or so, even hours, of the show, for all the obvious reasons. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case this go around. As I have alluded to once or twice in previous posts, some big changes have been coming my way, namely the relocation of my family from Nashville, where I’ve spent most of the past twenty years, back to my hometown of Panama City, FL. That was a process to say the least, and so trivial things like this blog were boxed up with my life of the past two decades and put on hold until time allowed.

But here we are a month plus after the fact, and the Bazan show is still on my mind. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that this was my last Nashville show (as a resident at least) and that I attended it as a guest of a very dear friend, Paul the Spivey.

Most house shows I’ve attended, and bulk of these a good ten plus years ago, were hot, loud, crowded affairs, people there as much for the keg as the band and, because these were mostly punk shows, riotous to the point that the cops were called before the entire bill had played, with the audience sent scattering in any direction.

Thankfully this was in no way the case to see Bazan.

I wish I could remember the name of the extremely nice couple who hosted, she was a good 8.5 months pregnant and he had a beard that was wearing him, but they were gracious and accommodating and I want to give them a shout out.

So, there we were on a bit of a chilly March evening in the hippest area Music City has to offer, standing on the front porch chatting with some guy, when a mini van pulls up and Bazan gets out carrying a guitar case and a small amp. He nodded to us as he entered the house and we took that as the queue to follow and stake a claim in the audience.

I’m going to back up a bit here and give a quick review of my standing with Pedro the Lion/David Bazan. I first heard of Pedro about 12 or 13 years ago when my friend Jason would put two or three songs on compilations of new bands he was discovering. I enjoyed a lot of those tunes immensely in their miniature and mixed setting, but when I listened to an entire Pedro album I found it sorta samey and boring, with a handful of highlight songs scattered here and there, yet not enough to keep me coming back. But having said that, I appreciated the band’s aesthetic, and especially Bazan’s open approach of a) his fervent Christianity and b) his struggle with heroin abuse (seriously kids, Jesus came for the broken, not the “righteous”).

Going into the show, I had at least heard and/or was familiar with all the main Pedro efforts, especially their last album, Achilles Heal, which I think is fantastic; while having heard next to nothing of Bazan’s two releases under his own name, though I knew that the first one was a “break up” with God. I also knew that he did a Q&A session with the audience, which I was warned by Paul bugged some people, but that he enjoyed.

In total there were about 50-60 people in a small living room adjoined to a dining room, the latter of which I took residence standing up against a back wall, while the rest of the folks took to the floor or some of the minimal seating scattered about. I don’t think Dave said anything at first, just launched into song and didn’t stop for at least two or three numbers.

As I’ve mentioned in previous performance reviews, I seem to enjoy myself more at a show of an artist I’m more aware of than familiar with, and this was certainly the case with David Bazan. From the start I found his presence warm and approachable, and his voice and subdued electric guitar playing perfect for the small setting, which allowed us to really hear the emotion in the lyrics, while the music crafted a vessel for the melody to take shape and move outward. I’ve more than once complained about the confessional tone of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, which for me often comes off as whiney and mealy mouthed, as he dumps his emotional baggage all over the captivated listener. Bazan, more than being just confessional, is telling it like it is – just the facts, ma’am – and instead of singing to anyone who will listen, is taking the heart of the matter directly to the subject in question, and simply allowing us to listen in if we care to know what’s up. The difference is staggering to the point where Bazan isn’t just letting you in on what happened at some random point in his life, but the active part he took, the outcome and how he felt (feels) about it, letting us know more about the man behind these songs, which is always a fascinating aspect of music. More often than not he portrays himself as the antagonist instead of the victim and he has, as he admitted at some point during the set, a pretty low self opinion, not so much as an artist but as a fallible guy going through life.

It’s this sort of stark frankness that makes his songs believable and ultimately profound, as you realize you can remove the characters in his musical situation and replace them with folks from your own life who have played out these scenarios in much the same way, with a bottom line recognition that we’re all in fact human, even indie rock stars.

This was most evident in the Q&A banter, as about every three songs he would either launch into a story (which were often hilarious and a bit bawdy) and/or simply ask, “Any questions at this point?” There always were, ranging anywhere from rumors of who/what he was currently working on, to who/what certain songs or lyrics were about, to how his parents felt about the current abandonment of his faith.

It was during these discussions that I figured out how he pretty much views himself, at this point anyway, as a folk artist. I found this especially fascinating when one guy pointed out that many of the songs he was playing that night had different arrangements than those found on the albums, to which he explained, to summarize, that at the time of recording, these songs were still new to him and it took time playing them out on the road to get to know them better, and therefore more how to play them. That struck me as very folky, very artistic and very true to a medium that must be in constant flux to remain relevant and enjoyable, for both artist and audience. And while Bazan is not necessarily trying to keep up with today’s musical trends, he’s certainly trying to keep himself in a constant state of dynamic awareness, presenting a product that is familiar (aka marketable, which as a working musician is a conscious effort) and yet unique unto itself, which (as I’ve said a bazillion times) is what makes a great artist truly great.

When it was all said and done, I didn’t get to hear the one song I’d have really liked to (The Fleecing from Achilles Heel), but I walked away enlightened and touched. It was a fitting end to two decades worth of great shows, as quiet and somber as the first back in September of 1992 was noisy and joyous, with the sobriety of age and experience providing an entirely different perspective on the performance, and taking away something that would have never been possible in my teens.

So thanks for the memories Dave, Nashville and of course, Paul the Spivey.

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