13 Oct 2009: Black Cat Washington, DC
David Bazan sounds like he wants his life back. For 25 years, Bazan considered himself an indisposed evangelical Christian. On his latest LP, Curse Your Branches, Bazan’s doubting lyricism has turned into an all-out affront to God. Imagine living a lie for a quarter century…you’d be angry too.
Find any YouTube page featuring David Bazan and you’ll almost definitely find heated theological debate underneath the clip. Bazan was, whether he liked it or not, a patron saint for self-professed “thinking Christians” who appreciated his ability to immerse himself in the darkness of man’s inescapable lust for sin while somehow finding a way to hang by a hair to the redemptive power of Christ. Now his questions have turned to challenges.
This is immediately evident at a David Bazan show. He invites questions from the audience, and inevitably, one or two come from disappointed, even heartbroken fans who want to know for sure if Bazan’s given up on God, or put another way, given up on them.
But Bazan answers each question with thoughtful sincerity. His eyes faintly glimmer when some youth group kid asks him about his favorite book of the Bible, but you can tell he’s fighting back the snark when he offers a perfectly kind answer: Ecclesiastes (what else?). He seems to take no joy in renouncing his belief, but it’s clear he finds uncertainty infinitely more comforting, and comfortable, than holding on to a doubtful faith. His music follows suit. There’s 25 years of pent-up anger towards a God he refuses to excuse. However, it’s not released as vitriol.
Bazan states his case by pointing out the inconsistencies with which he’s struggled for years, eyes closed, face raised to heaven as if to say, “I’ve made my case. Now it’s your turn.” It makes listeners squirm, wishing that he would either reclaim his faith or stop talking about it altogether. There’s something discomfiting about a man so brazenly questioning a God in which he doesn’t believe. But at the same time, the tension is electrifying. His voice, which is richer than ever, is breathtaking when he reaches up to hit those high, loud notes which often accompany his most damning accusations. An unbeliever could be forgiven for backing away from the stage, as if hoping to avoid the inevitable lightning bolt from on high.
Tonight’s set reached back no further than 2002, eschewing the first four years of Pedro the Lion material. Bazan stuck to the new stuff, possibly because he’s more comfortable with his newer, morally ambiguous material, or because he wants to put the Pedro the Lion years behind him. He played almost every song from his new record with a wonderful backing band. A few of the songs are a bit more jangly than Pedro the Lion’s more metered guitar work, some even featuring slide guitar and wailing feedback. He mixed up the new material with a stripped down, unadventurous cover of Dylan’s “The Man in Me”, a large chunk of tunes from 2006’s Fewer Moving Parts, and a couple tracks from Pedro the Lion’s last two albums.
Bazan returned for an encore featuring an old Pedro song along with a devastating performance of “The Stitches”, a song grappling with the gaping despair that comes from having to confront a questioning child who needs stability from a father who possesses neither. Surely there are folks in tonight’s audience who have looked to him for such qualities. Some may leave disappointed that they can’t count Bazan on their side. Others may say a prayer on his behalf. Still others may take comfort knowing that someone else is plagued by nagging doubt. All should applaud his intellectual integrity, and hope that if God exists, he won’t forsake an honest man.