Thursday, Nov. 10
David Bazan is one of those artists that’s beloved by serious indie music geeks and, judging by the number of fans that turned out for his show on Thursday night at the White Rabbit, there are ton of those in Indianapolis. It’s not always easy to say what’s behind that peculiar, underground appeal (and, by the way, “music geek” is a term of respect), but at the very least Bazan's career and his music show the kind of artistic independence of someone committed to personal evolution and not just rock and roll.
For example, after 10 years as the frontman of his first band, Pedro the Lion, he formed a synth-rock band called Headphones which stayed together for one year. Later, he underwent a very public religious de-conversion and recorded an album he refers to as a “break-up letter to God,” 2009’s Curse Your Branches. This was also his first full-length solo album. At 35, it seems he’s still discovering who he is, and there’s something charming about that kind of honesty.
On Thursday night he relied pretty heavily on songs from his Pedro the Lion days, opening with “Second Best.” With a hollow kind of melancholy in his voice he begged the question “what’s wrong with being second best,” while playing a very alt-rock, three note riff on his Epiphone SG. Like “Second Best, a lot of his songs do run toward the pain and disappointment of adult life, and how people come to terms with it.
A few songs in he played “I Do,” a song about the birth of his son (children are a recurring theme in his songs), featuring a driving drum beat and the same kind of simple, high-pitched lead guitar. This song particularly shows Bazan’s penchant for penning gold nuggets of pure honesty (“now it’s time to raise a son to live vicariously through”), but also for lines that are so straight-forward as to be a bit clumsy (“And when his tiny head emerged from hair and folds of skin/if he only knew he’d turn around and climb right back in”).
The show started to peak when Bazan broke out the song “Virginia” from this year's release Strange Negotiations, a track about a dream in which he is reunited with a long-lost high-school friend. On that song, the bass acted almost like lead guitar as they kept it smooth and emotive before jamming out a little. In fact, they seemed to want to get a little jammy during a lot of songs, but that’s not really the Bazan motif at this point. The band's dynamic is that the lyrics grab most of the attention, while his guitar work is so elegantly simple that it almost fades underneath the weight of the formidable drum and bass supplied by Alex Westcoat and Andy Fitts (respectively).
Stopping occasionally to answer audience questions (“What kind of animal are you?” “I’m a dog. It’s complicated.” “What’s your favorite hip-hop record?” “[Jay-Z’s] The Black Album.”), Bazan and his band ramped-up the intensity a little bit from there on out, rocking a little harder and letting the songs slip into jams. He also managed to get a song from his Headphones days into the night’s line-up.
Toward the end of the night his voice seemed to show some limitations, maybe due to fatigue, and he even admitted that he was “pretty rough tonight.” The show also took on that, ‘when is he going to wrap this up?’ kind of feel before he delivered the title-track from the new album and closed-out the show.
Louisville-based folk singer-songwriter Cheyenne Marie Mize opened up the night. For a folk singer who has collaborated with country artists, Mize played a surprisingly low-fi alternative kind of set, lending her smooth, pretty voice to a more low-slung experimental vibe with long, minor chords on the keyboard. She closed-out with the tight, jumping melody of “Wishing Well,” which was a definite departure from the rest of the set and almost seemed like an afterthought. Personally I preferred the darker, lower frequency, Radiohead-ish vibe of the rest of her set. Mize’s first album, We Don’t Need, is set to come out in January.