Intimate and Interactive with David Bazan

a concert review/reflection by Rudy Regehr

saint ben’s regular Rudy Regehr has recently moved to BC, but is staying very much connected to us through this website and by e-mail. He recently had the opportunity to attend a unique house concert, and we asked him to write about the experience for our site.

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hen David Bazan released his first EP as part of the group Pedro the Lion on Tooth & Nail records in the mid 1990s, he caught a lot of people by surprise. His ability to tell stories with his music made it clear, from the beginning, that Bazan was a unique songwriter. Bazan tells a different side of the story than what some are used to, though. His lyrics have often been ironic, exploring important perspectives about a variety of subjects such as drug addiction and infidelity, but also about doing one’s best to live a good life. Bazan’s songs were never preachy, but instead took the route of making points by telling parables from the point of view of the character of the story. As Bazan explored his thoughts on life and morality, his outside-the-box thinking was refreshing for those who were tired of pat answers. Bazan was a Christian artist who always stayed true to himself. He didn’t feel it was necessary to blow his own horn by counting the number of times he said “Jesus” in his songs, but rather explored Biblical subjects. He was the most recent prophet the Christian faith had in North America.That’s why it was so surprising to his following of fans in the faith when Bazan’s most recent album came out.

Bazan gradually grew further and further apart from conventional Christianity over the years as his lyrics grew darker in tone and he wasn’t afraid to be honest and pull no punches. He used language that conservative Christian media criticized and that alienated some of his more conservative fans. It wasn’t all bad, as he was still always invited back to the Cornerstone music festival and some other Christian venues. Also, Bazan’s most devoted fans remained loyal despite the fact that his lyrics became progressively more jaded. Still, he grew more and more disenchanted with the Church and, eventually the faith as an institution. The course of his life eventually resulted in his alcoholism. At one point Bazan even tried to be an atheist, but the more he tried to deny the existence of God the more he drank. Eventually, he came to terms with the fact that he had lost the faith he clinged to all his life. As a pastor’s son, he had to realize he couldn’t deny the existence of a God he knew was there, but as someone who had some very difficult questions he also felt he couldn’t identify himself as a Christian anymore. He now considers himself agnostic and, for the first time, has dedicated an album to telling a lot of his own stories.

It’s with this knowledge and history in mind that I attended a recent gig Bazan played. Hopelessly independent as an artist, Bazan has decided that his current list of shows would all be played in people’s living rooms. At one point a post went up on his web site asking those who would offer their living room to apply. According the the people in whose living room this gig was taking place, it was just that simple. They applied by sending an e-mail with a couple of pictures of their living room and didn’t expect it would go much further than that. Of course…they got chosen. So here I was. I hadn’t seen Bazan play live in 12 years ( in a club in Vancouver but I was about to get packed into a living room with 45 other people to see an artist I’ve admired for a long time. It was an intimate night for several reasons. As many of us sat in that living room waiting for Bazan to arrive, we talked and got to know each other. I’d like to think that we all became friends. We got to know our hosts as well, who they are and what occupies their time. What united us all was a love for Bazan and his music.

As Bazan arrived, there was an excited tension over what this performance would bring. I think that we all anticipated an honest performance, as that is what Bazan does, but I’d like to think that I wasn’t the only one wondering which songs he would play. Given that nearly Bazan’s entire catalog was recorded before he started to really distance himself from his faith, I thought that it may be difficult to play older songs. What I’ve realized in hindsight is that because Bazan has always written honest lyrics about life, his options were fairly wide open. And he explored those options a bit, mostly playing songs from 3 or 4 of his most recent albums, including his recent “Curse Your Branches”. In fact, one reason that it’s so refreshing to watch Bazan perform live is that he’s not afraid to be vulnerable in a room crowded with people. There were musically upbeat but lyrically sobering songs like “Please Baby Please”, based on Bazan’s experience with alcoholism, as well as even darker songs about the fear of death like “Priests and Paramedics”. We were also treated to a song that Bazan is considering for a new album he will be recording; a song that left all of us with jaws dropped because of how the song conveyed its emotion. There wasn’t any setlist here though…occasionally between songs Bazan could even be seen having a discussion with himself over whether to play a particular song.

Yet another advantage there is in attending a performance like this is that Bazan does what he’s become accustomed to doing: fielding for questions or comments from the audience after every 3 or 4 songs. Bazan has done it for quite some time. I suppose an artist doesn’t play living room shows and not love interacting with their fans. Bazan isn’t afraid to face the questions his fans and skeptics have about him and his music. It was actually kind of like we were attending a session of IdeaExchange. Maybe it would be good in that capactiy as well. But fortunately it was only friends and admirers on this particular night. As fans, we got a chance to know the artist better as a person and find out what really drives him. We learned (some us for the first time) what an amazing sense of humor he has, given the nature of his lyrics, and how good playing music makes him feel. I’m speculating but I really do think that maybe music saved Bazan’s life during the times when even his intense love for his wife and children may not have seemed like enough. And when Bazan’s set ended with the song, “In Stitches”, I think we all came away with the feeling that this experience changed us even a little.

When the night concluded and we all stood around talking and shaking Bazan’s hand, it was evident that our reasons for loving Bazan and his music were quite valid. It wasn’t about who of us consider ourselves Christians and who don’t, but rather the important lessons we take away from hearing Bazan’s songs. It’s also clear that regardless of who Bazan is when he writes his songs, they have something to say to many different people from many different walks of life. Even after the changes Bazan has experienced, there are still people who feel that he can be a voice of prophecy for the Faithful. Those of us who follow Bazan and do live lives of faith can still find tons of value in Bazan’s current perspective. Perhaps we could even learn the most.

More photographs from the house concert are available here.

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