Some loosely organized notes on a recent Pedro the Lion gig at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C.:
Burly, but bruised — never have I met a guitar tone that reflected both its player and its person. David Bazan's a big guy with a big heart and, in recent years, has come across a murky-colored fuzz (that's not too fuzzy) befitting his sad-coyote howl, especially applied to chunky chords.
Never mind that Bazan wasn't actually the one playing guitar onstage at Black Cat — that would be Erik Walters, his most consistent live band member of late — but Pedro the Lion is David Bazan; other musicians are sympathetic extensions of his wrought songwriting and sound world. Still, though, Erik conjured some serious ghosts from that guitar.
Pedro the Lion's had quite the revolving door of supporting characters who, by David's own admission, have left due to his need to control the situation. David did mention, however, late into the set, that Erik and Terence (the drummer whose last name I do not know) are the best working relationship he's had in a long time. That was nice to hear.
After years of isolation, when audiences are itching to be entertained — a lazy, passive engagement with live music — Pedro the Lion's subdued set felt quietly subversive. Except for "Indian Summer" (the oldest song on the setlist) and "Quietest Friend," Pedro the Lion kept to brooding songs that ruminate on the human condition, which… is David's whole thing, yes, but I've seen some pretty vicious Pedro the Lion performances over the years. This was not that. David wanted us to sit in sadness with him, even if, over the show, he brightened up by the sheer act of playing in front of people.
Over the last 20+ years, I've seen Pedro the Lion — and various iterations — at least a dozen times: In Atlanta, in D.C., at the Tiny Desk (where I happen to work), in the cornfields of Central Illinois (yes, at the Cornerstone Festival); as Pedro the Lion, as Headphones, as David Bazan, as the short-lived Paperback (touring with Starflyer 59); with full bands, solo, accompanied by an "iPod bass." I'd really like to see Lo Tom — his no-frills rock band with members of Starflyer 59 and Velour 100 — someday.
For an audience choosing this particular brand of bummer — in a venue surrounded outside by skimpily-dressed 20-somethings in various states of inebriation — on a Saturday night, something felt particularly nervy as David asked folks to mask up. To the audience's credit, I did see a lot of masks go on afterward, but still, others stood stone-faced as David essentially begged for his livelihood. When David performed "Hard to Be" solo, an unmasked man standing next to us, who'd just witnessed something real and vulnerable from a musician he presumably admired, sang along: And why it's hard to be / Hard to be, hard to be / A decent human being. The disconnect was loud, and has been ringing in my soul since.
David played a Tom Petty cover ["Walls (Circus)"] solo; I never know where to start with Tom Petty, but I should listen to more Tom Petty.
My bestie Lyndsey and I missed the opener — Oceanator, whose new album I like very much — because we hadn't seen each other since she became pregnant. We needed to hug it out and revel at in-person conversation in the midst of 14th St. bustle. (But y'all should listen to Oceanator.) For that same reason, we also missed Pedro the Lion's encore so Lyndsey could catch a ride back home; I figured David, also a dad, would understand. ("Bands With Managers" apparently ended the night.)
When I got home, I made myself a sandwich out of leftover BBQ brisket. Not quite a late-night slice, but felt like one.