I spent the better part of the year after college graduation driving around my hometown, fretting, blasting Pedro the Lion’s “Options.” The powerful, simple chords resonated within my bones and the lyrics spoke to me on an entirely different level. Control, the album that hosts “Options,” turned 10 years old recently, so David Bazan and his band hit the road to give the album the recognition it deserves.
I’ve seen David Bazan play living room shows to 20 people and clubs of 300, and in every scenario, he brings a strange closeness to the crowd, making it feel like there aren’t many other people in the room with you. Because of this, I was stoked to catch Bazan + Band performing at The Independent, my favorite San Francisco venue (so far). Bazan was quick to voice my opinion, describing the 400-capacity club as one of his favorite venues to play in the country. “It’s pretty fucking great to be in this room, in this town.”
Before drummer Alex Westcoat played the opening note in “Options” the silence was hungry. As Bazan and bassist Andy Fitts joined in, everyone in the crowd seemed to let out a breath they’d been holding for 10 years. Bazan, clad in his customary black t-shirt and red hoodie, powered through the songs with ease and a rightful sense of pride. He’s never terribly active onstage, often remaining stationary and playing seamlessly from one song into the next with a quick (but genuine) “thank you.” When he plays, his eyes are often closed, his emotion pouring out through his booming voice. It’s as though the words he's singing still weigh too heavily for him to move around much.
Bazan’s mellow stage presence is complemented wholly by his incredible drummer. Although Westcoat had no hand in Control 10 years ago (he can’t be much older than 25), he played each song with the intensity of the composer. His body kept rhythm almost mechanically, his hands viciously slamming the set. A grimace formed on his face to match speedier tempos, gradually spreading into a maniacal grin. His unfocused look of concentration was enviable. Westcoat stayed seated at his drum set for the entire show, yet he easily moved around more than Bazan and Fitts—who were both standing—combined.
Although the purpose of the Control tour was to celebrate the album in its entirety, Bazan made a smart move when he inserted (as I viewed it) the encore halfway through the melancholic album. They played songs from most of Bazan’s other albums (including Headphones and more Pedro material), but noticeably absent was anything from 2009’s Curse Your Branches. Every few songs, Bazan posed his usual, “Does anybody have any questions at this point in the show?” He discussed the ban his wife put on the song “Rapture,” which had finally been lifted for this tour (listen to the lyrics; it’s clear why). He mentioned the forthcoming album from Overseas, a band he formed with Will Johnson and brothers Bubba and Matt Kadane. He guessed that he owns 12 black t-shirts.
They finished Control on a strong note, but before ending the night on Pedro’s “Rejoice,” Bazan alluded to being very active on tour next year. When someone asked him if there was going to be another Headphones album, he put his business face on. “There will be a Headphones-esque album. This is the brand now...If you’re waiting for Pedro the Lion you’re gonna be waiting for your whole life. This is it. This is the brand.” Open your eyes, people. We’ve got David Bazan ready and willing, in the form he wants to be in. Pedro or Headphones or Bazan, he’s bringing the same song catalog. Rejoice and enjoy it.