Photo by Kristin Henry
David Bazan played at the Neptune Saturday, Dec. 15

Bazan Takes ‘Control’ at The Neptune

By Dusty Henry

Guitar feedback whirs from the stage as David Bazan stands with his back to the audience, looking at drummer Alex Westcoat and bassist Andy Fitts. After a couple beats, Bazan starts to play the plunking guitar melody of “Options,” the first song off of Pedro the Lion’s album Control.

“I’m not much for nostalgia, as you can probably tell,” Bazan said near the end of the set.

Though playing the album Control in its entirety 10 years after its release might make the tour look like a nostalgia cash cow, in this case it was anything but. If anything, the album has become far more relevant, both musically and lyrically.

Certainly, Bazan is a different man than when he first played the songs on Control. He's changed a lot in the last 10 years: He’s renounced his Christian faith, fathered two children, and has shed the Pedro The Lion moniker once and for all.

That isn't to say he’s lost his edge and focused angst, though. For everyone at The Neptune on Saturday, that’s a good thing.

Every night on their national tour they have played through the entire album of Control and this, at The Neptune in the University District Saturday night, was the last stop on the tour.

Instead of playing straight through, the band split up the album into two halves. Between each half, Bazan and the band would pick selections from his solo work, Pedro the Lion, and side project Headphones.

One of the most anticipated songs for fans to hear, "Rapture," came early as it's the second track on Control.

In the past, Bazan has openly said that the one song he wouldn’t play live anymore was “Rapture” –- a song which compares a sexual affair with the Christian belief of Christ’s second-coming and summoning believers to heaven. The brash, gritty guitar intro and thundering drums were a staunch contrast to the plodding and bleak tenderness of “Options.”

Out of context, it might have looked like Bazan was leading a hymn as he stood center stage with a large crowd of ecstatic spectators singing along, “Oh my sweet rapture, I hear Jesus and the angels singing hallelujah, calling me to the promise land."

But it only serves to show Bazan's personal brand of storytelling when that line is juxtaposed against earlier, raunchier stanzas, such as “this is how we multiply, pity that it’s not my wife,” or “she’s arching her back, she screams for more.”

His voice is much more rough and jagged these days compared to the smooth, youthful tone he had on his first album, It’s Hard To Find A Friend. But Bazan’s a rougher and more jagged person than he was back then. Almost every show he wears the same uniform -– a black t-shirt and jeans. He embraces the imperfections of his voice to give dramatic expression to his characters. During “Progress” he raises his voice at the end of the last verse, and when he yells “a wife who’s always nagging” you feel the frustration and anxiety that has been building up the entire song.

In live performances, Bazan loves to take liberties arranging the songs differently and even adding in words. During the track “Indian Summer” he sang the original line “that way they’ll naturally love the taste of corporate cum” and then added in an extra kicker for the audience: “yum, yum.”

The bridge in “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” from his first solo EP, Fewer Moving Parts had Bazan and his guitar shrieking. As he sang “the water and oil mix, causing the fire to spread, oh god!” the entire band surged into a frenzy before reaching its release of the line, “What a cruel God we got.” Fitts and Westcoat the dropped out while Bazan finger picked a Jeff Buckley reminiscent melody with accompanying falsetto.

At the end of the Achilles’ Heel track “Transcontinental,” Bazan did two punk rock scissor kicks in succession.

“(You) probably didn’t think that it was possible,” Bazan joked.

Several times Bazan addressed the crowd, asking if they had any question. This is a tradition he’s been carrying on for a couple years now. Some crowd questions leaned more toward finding out what he likes, such as his favorite Fugazi record (“somewhere between Red Medicine and End Hits”) and his favorite comedian (“Louis C.K., I am in awe of him”). One crowd member asked if the story of the two brothers in story of his album Winners Never Quit were carried over to the story of Control. He replied, no.

“I didn’t mean to write a concept record with Control,” he said, explaining that they discovered when you ordered the songs in a certain way it told a story. He then made a few lyrical tweaks to make it consistent.

The band seamlessly transitioned back into playing the second half of Control without saying anything, keeping momentum. “Magazine” through “Second Best” was a power stretch of sludgy guitars.

Westcoat’s drumming ended up being one of the biggest highlights of the night. With mouth open, Westcoat would attack the drum with forceful hits but immense precision. He never distracted from the rest of the group but propelled the energy between the three musicians.

At one point a fan yelled, “Why do the drums sound so kick ass?”

The closing song, “Rejoice,” became a much more raucous endeavor than it was on the album version. Instead of the hollow and pensive vibes from the record, it became more of a harsh and pointed statement. “But everything is so meaningful and everything turns to shit. Rejoice.”

Audience members looking for an encore were only greeted with the house lights turning on and Bazan motioning “Go away, it’s over” as he exited stage right.

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