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June 21, 2006

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First, the semi-straight facts: In the beginning, Pedro the Lion was David Bazan, and David Bazan was Pedro the Lion. A revolving cast of musical friends made up the studio and touring band, and he/they released a couple 7-inches, an EP, and then his/their first full length, the brilliant 'It's Hard To Find a Friend', on Seattle's Made in Mexico Records in 1998. Their next stop was Jade Tree, who re-released the album, co-released another EP, and then put out the second disc, 'Winners Never Quit', in 2000. A couple excellent full-lengths later, frequent touring bassist TW Walsh (a damn fine songwriter in his own right, but more on the great new Soft Drugs EP later this week) became an official PTL member, and helped create what would become their last official output, 'Achilles Heel', in 2004. Meanwhile, David had decided to record some songs sans-guitar, just keys and drums, so his newly named Headphones released a debut disc in 2005.

During the overlap, you wouldn't see Pedro play any Headphones songs live, nor would you see Headphones perform any Pedro songs. A short time later, David decided to retire the PTL band name, part creative ways with co-conspirator TW, and resolve to put out his guitar-based songs under his own name. So as a solo live performer, he now pulls from a long list of whatever material he wants. In his own words from the stage: "It's a Venn diagram that intersects right here with me."

He came to Cambridge a couple nights back to sing his songs of death and doubt in front of an obviously enraptured crowd at TT the Bears. I'm not sure I've ever missed any of his various incarnations' Boston area appearances, and this one surely ranks with the best of them. Songs spread throughout his recorded history, along with all the songs from his newly released 'Fewer Broken Parts' EP (which conveniently appeared in my mailbox just hours before the show).

More on that disc after this gift, mp3s of David's 17 song set (with bonus between-song banter), shared here with his kind permission...

David Bazan

Live at TT the Bears
Cambridge, MA
Monday, June 19th, 2006

01. April 6, 2039
02. The Poison
03. Priests and Paramedics
04. Fewer Broken Pieces
05. Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives
06. Q&A #1
07. Selling Advertising
08. banter
09. Bands With Managers
10. Q&A #2
11. Hot Girls
12. I Do
13. Q&A #3
14. How I Remember
15. banter
16. Slow Car Crash
17. banter
18. Transcontinental
19. banter
20. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
21. banter
22. Backwoods Nation
23. Of Up and Coming Monarchs
24. banter
25. Cold Beer and Cigarettes
26. banter
27. The Longer I Lay Here

For those keeping score: Song 1 is from the PTL 'Progress' EP; 2, 9, 12, & 19 come from PTL's 'Achilles Heel', and 3 can be found on their 'Control' disc; 4, 7, 14, 22, & 25 are all from the new solo EP; 11 & 16 are both Headphones songs, and 20 is from PTL's 'Winners Never Quit'; 5, 23, & 27 are all from 'It's Hard to Find a Friend'.

I think David's been doing candid mid-show question & answer breaks for about as long as he's been playing out, and depending on what the audience serves up for Q's, the A's can be worth the price of admission alone. Better some potentially interesting interaction than the cliché between-song cheeze you might get elsewhere (and if you've never seen Sense & Sensibility... spoiler alert!).

There's a lot I dig about the guy: Aside from the obvious (his knack for catchy melody, his way with words, and that voice), I admire his ability to channel the darker aspects of humanity in his songs, his willingness to not only sing frankly about his faith but to question it (for which he has this agnostic's respect), his politics, and his refreshing honesty, both within his lyrics and his conversation. He's not afraid to wear more than just his heart on his sleeve.

Pay special attention to song #7 above, the Q&A that precedes it, and the words that follow it. It's 'Selling Advertising', the first song on the new EP, and it's pointedly directed at Pitchfork's head hooer, Ryan Schreiber. As a longtime P-fork detractor, I'm glad to see Bazan put himself out there and mix it up with the so-called 'indie tastemaker'. Back in 2000, there was a long string of infuriating reviews of records I loved (and even a couple I didn't) that were so poorly written that they formed a lasting foundation for my disdain, which has since been diluted a bit by apathy. I still occasionally hit them up for news alone, but even that is becoming irrelevant; their daily updates increasingly include items I've read elsewhere much earlier. A friend pointed me to their recent review of the Billy Bragg box set, complete with misquoted lyrics and inaccurate song titles... so it seems not much has changed. It usually makes me feel dirty to even mention 'em, but this deserves it.

Mr. Bazan's beef: One of those hack reviews I mentioned was this one of Pedro's 'Winners Never Quit' disc. A near-personal attack that talks little about the music, it's a shining turd of an example of P-fork at it's worst. And while it's not written by Schreiber, word is he's responsible for the random numbers that rate every reviewed release. Ever wonder why a write-up's text occasionally doesn't really jibe with the rating? Well, there ya go. More evidence of the douchebaggery: This swell PTL news item and another little review.

Have at thee, Schreiber! The lyrics to David Bazan's 'Selling Advertising'...
You're so creative with your reviews
Of what other people do
How satisfying that must be for you
Am I a Christian? Are you a Jew?
Did you kill my Lord? Must I forgive you?

I know it's hard to be original
In fact, nothing scares me more
Because Jesus only lets me do
What has been done before

The path of least resistance
The ancient holy wars
The same old easy targets
Yeah, we've all been there before

So if it starts to get you down
Just pretend
That you don't make your living
From selling advertising
Tracking trends, corralling demographics,
And maximizing traffic

Then if you get tired of making taste for free
You can always start a band with me
Or anybody
As David himself says after the song, not exactly open to interpretation, eh? Gotta love the religion-teasing he throws out there. And how many points do you think P-fork will give the EP? It's a catch-22: Too low and they're taking the bait, too high and they're attempting to cover their hipster asses ('hey, look at us, we're above that petty stuff!'). Can they resist the urge to get even muddier, and instead just ignore it?

To stream the entire 'Fewer Moving Parts' EP, which includes 10 songs (five new ones and their acoustic demo counterparts), head to PureVolume. You can also hear a few of them over at his MySpace page.

The title track (which Bazan called 'the saddest song I know') is a great one about his musical split with TW Walsh. 'Backwoods Nation' takes a look at the sorry side of the close-minded America we've seen over the last five years, and has been reworked nicely from a previous appearance on a 2002 Jade Tree compilation (that vocal distortion in the live version is a cool touch). Another song, 'Cold Beer and Cigarettes', lived a couple of previous lives as 'The Devil Is Beating His Wife', which you can find online as an acoustic demo (also on the EP) and an electric demo as well.

Forget about online availability, though -- This EP is something you really need to hold in your hands... not just for the higher-fi, but for the beautiful drawings by Eisner-nominated artist/publisher Zak Sally (more than just the 'ex-Low bassist'). The mini-comic-slash-lyric-booklet helps make the thing a genuine work of album art (if only it was an actual LP). Buy the whole pretty package either straight from the Undertow music collective or from Jade Tree, or at an upcoming show, where you can also score a larger version of the Zak Sally art in the form of a spiffy tour poster. The remaining dates...
Wed 06/21 Hoboken NJ @ Maxwell's (early show)
Thu 06/22 Philadelphia PA @ World Cafe Live
Fri 06/23 Washington DC @ Black Cat Backstage
Sat 06/24 Pittsburgh PA @ Club Cafe Live
Sun 06/25 Newport KY @ Southgate House - Parlor
Wed 07/19 Portland OR @ Doug Fir - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Thu 07/20 Eugene OR @ WOW Hall - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Fri 07/21 Chico CA @ Market Cafe - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Sat 07/22 Modesto CA @ Xclamation Festival w/ Micah P. Hinson
Sun 07/23 Pomona CA @ Glass House - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Mon 07/24 San Diego CA @ The Casbah - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Tue 07/25 Los Angeles CA @ Tangiers - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Thu 07/27 San Francisco CA @ Bottom of the Hill - w/ Micah P. Hinson
Sat 07/29 Seattle WA @ Tractor Tavern - w/ Micah P. Hinson

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