David Bazan is the only artist capable of turning otherwise brawny, full-bearded men into tender versions of themselves. As he walked on stage at the Casbah last Friday and stood above a sold-out crowd of fans (mostly men) you get the sense that this isn't his first time. And for the thousandth time again, he will engage in an existential shedding, in front of strangers. His latest record Strange Negotiations is once again, more revealing than it ought to be. And he never meant for it to be that way, anyhow.
Bazan is an artist best known for his previous band, Pedro the Lion: a confrontational exploration of religious hypocrisy, specifically Christianity - laced with enough Christian rhetoric for Christ-following hipsters to confuse it for contemporary worship, something a little more relatable with a healthy dose of doubt. This is the polarizing contradiction of Bazan fans, most of them aren't exactly listening to his lyrics, because if they were, they'd realize that the man does not believe.
These laments get louder with every record, Bazan's first solo effort, Curse Your Branches was touted his break-up record with God. Then one would expect Strange Negotiations to be less hostile, with a post-breakup haircut, and maybe new pair of slacks. Bazan refuses to find resolve, courageously tackling corporate greed in "Wolves at the Door", decadence and human depravity in "People" and the rare, impenetrable love for his wife in a song called, "Won't Let Go".
He began with no introduction, he needs none. These fans are a different breed, they know his most obscure projects, Headphones, his favorite record: Gillian Welch's Revelator, the names of his children and all the words to his songs. It's a bizarre attachment he is not entirely comfortable with, but he still opens up for Q&A occassionally between songs, receiving requests for songs he'd long put to rest, offers to get him a beer (the most common) which he almost always politely accepts.
He also played a handful of Pedro songs like "Transcontinental" and "Big Trucks" while stating, "you might know these from Pedro the Lion, I might be biased, but this (band) is better".
His voice and posture are heavy, like these songs keep him up at night with an unrelenting disappointment in the human condition and unsatisfying "magical explanations" for life and death and the in-betweens. Yet his delicate demeanor between songs suggests a real sincerity, and while he might sarcastically sing, "you're a goddamn fool" he's pointing the finger at himself. Most notably in songs like "People" where he sings, "now you're selfish and mean, your eyes glued to the screen" he follows with, "you are my people, and we're the same in so many ways". It's that necessary kind of wisdom when you're in the business of telling it like it is because, "when you love the truth enough, you start to tell it all the time".
Rounded out by drummer Alex Westcoat, and bassist/guitarst Andy Fitts; the band's sound is polished and hearty, ending with a thunderous drum solo for Strange Negotiations as if it were the culmination of building angst, released for a proper finale. Despite pleas from the crowd, there was no encore. And for a weary man that holds the weight of some kind of spiritual liberator, he can do so just fine, he's got a wife and kids to call before bed, a stage full of gear to pack up for the night.
Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms and works in artist relations for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.