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David Bazan: Somewhere Between Lament and Joy by John Scherer

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Calvin-based band CARE opened for David Bazan at The Ladies Literary Club last Saturday night.  Singing to a mostly full house, the 3-member band started their barefooted act with a unique vocal style and a kazoo.  They whistled, sang, “kazooed,” and poured their little indie hearts out, while channeling bands like Girls and Destroyer.  Percussion was GOOD; though he kept lifting up his over-sized glasses, between playing.  The viability of a set of contacts crossed my mind.  But, there are looks to maintain.  And this little facet of the performance made the opening act more enjoyable.  CARE brought a supportive crowd, and high listener reviews.

After CARE, David Bazan, former/always lead singer of Pedro the Lion, came out to perform at Calvin once again.  With his excellent guitar skills, sarcasm, deeply resonating themes and hoodie, what’s not to love about this man?  No wonder he’s back?  This time however, he comes out with 2 other band members (including an incredibly happy/always smiling drummer), and a more upbeat sound.

Bazan played a lot from Pedro the Lion, some from his first solo album, and of course, the all-new Strange Negotiations.  He sings “Virginia” with soul, and let the words resound in his listeners ears.  Who is this Virginia?  Does he know her?

Well, we get a little insight with the Q/A sessions interspersed between the set and after the show.  He explains that “Virginia” has a lot to do with the loss of a childhood friend (a short detour from his more contemplative, spiritually-based songs, but lamenting all the same).  While his good ol’ rock and roll is more upbeat than when he has come to Calvin before, there still exists this shadow of sadness—or call it lament or grief—which shows through the otherwise warm musical front.  But, that’s David Bazan. 

One characteristic of listening to David Bazan is trying to decipher where the music really comes from.  If you are not familiar with his history, he has oscillated between bringing a secular and/or Christian perspective to his music.  He has certainly been open about his struggles-in music, marriage, and life.  He explains his songs as mostly fiction, but the non-fictional tinges of guilt, questioning, and compromise successfully show through in all.  His introspective music can be uncomfortable, but also can arouse something within a person, whether it be judgment, an ability to relate, curiosity, or more/all-in-one.

Watching and listening to David Bazan joke with his audience, with little to no filter, seems to invite hearers into his understanding, while he tries to remain ironically detached… the whole time.  Some parts of the show are heavy, as heard in his music and his astutely referenced past.  What is this guilt?  What does it mean to put it in its place?  What is a person supposed to do with guilt?  And questions?  This is where Bazan works from and stands.  He seems to build and harness a confidence knowing he is not everything.

Bazan closed the show by giving a lucky audience member a life-long event pass.  Whether you fully endorse David Bazan or not, whether you seem him as some sort of beacon or representation of what it means to “struggle” (choosing whichever connotation of the word), David Bazan puts on a really decent show.  His band sounds great, his guitar playing is impeccable.  At moments it felt a bit Northwestern.  I could close my eyes and even imagine some Grunge show or that I was listening to Skin Yard. With his attendance record here at Calvin, chances are he will be back.