The road is hard.
On the way to Lawrence to play a gig at the Bottleneck with local indie rockers, Cowboy Indian Bear, David Bazan and his band mates ran into some trouble with their transportation. Something about a messed up wheel, "but they will definitely be here eventually" the Bottleneck staffer assured me.
There’s nothing worse than breaking down in the middle of nowhere, especially when you have some place to be. You feel helpless, you’re not sure if you can get the right parts in time, and you’re resigned to just hanging in the local truck stop drinking coffee and perusing the Dr. Hook Greatest hits cd rack for hours.
But Bazan and his two cohorts did eventually make it, and took to the stage just after 11:00 to a half-full bar. Unfortunately, after a few songs into the set, it seemed like their mishap on the road might have sapped their energy a bit.
They started with Second Best, a song from his former band, Pedro the Lion. The crunchy guitar tone crackled and buzzed while slow, plodding, almost monotonous bass and drums pounded out the backbeat to fill out Bazan’s cynical world view. The first song or two, as is usually the case, was a little bit of an exercise in dialing in the right balance and sound, which they did successfully a few songs in.
"You’re a god damn fool, and I love you," crooned Bazan, as his drummer and bass player tastefully resigned themselves into the periphery of Wolves at the Door. Yep, this was David’s party and he knew it.
"Does anyone have any questions?" Bazan asked, buying a little more time for the sound guy. Half a dozen hands shot up.
An audience member asked a rather pointed question about Bazan’s family’s reaction to a song I couldn’t quite catch the name of.
"That’s a great question. I think my mother was a little –"
Another audience member shouted out a question he apparently thought was more important.
"Sir, you’ll have to wait your turn," Bazan softly scolded. Plus the guy didn’t even raise his hand.
Next up was another flight of Pedro songs, I Do, Of Up And Coming Monarchs, and Big Trucks. By that time, though, the energy waned even further as the Bottleneck crowd thinned enough that I snagged a table.
Not a great sign when you can do that in the middle of the headliner’s set.
I mean, I get it – it’s tough for a touring band to bring the funk every night, playing in small dirty bars in small dirty towns. As the show progressed I noticed certain nice moments, but they were inevitably moments where I noticed the material itself, much more so than the performance.
The band generated a little momentum with a nice cover of Tom Petty’s Climb That Hill. The Gibson SG and stripped down three piece sound was a nice fit for that Petty song, even if it remained predictable through the whole set.
The best song of the night, Strange Negotiations, came second to last. It’s the title track off the latest album, and it revealed briefly why people like David Bazan. The heartfelt lyrics, the honesty, the accessibility, kind of reminded of Buffalo Tom with its straight forward, standard rock feel.
I only wish the rest of the set would have been as inspired. That little taste of what he does so well stood in stark contrast to the walk-through that most of the other songs felt like.
Question time again. "Anyone have another question?"
Someone asked about some political crap.
"Obama should’ve walked in with his cock out," answered Bazan. Not sure what the question was, but that sounds about right to me.
The band closed with Criticism as Inspiration, another Pedro song, and bid the audience a good night. If the band was planning an encore, that idea was quickly scrapped, as it was apparent that few in the room cared to stick around to find out.
Second Best (Pedro the Lion song)
Wolves at the Door
Bless This Mess
How I Remember
I Do (Pedro the Lion song)
Of Up and Coming Monarchs (Pedro the Lion song)
Gas & Matches (Headphones song)
Big Trucks (Pedro the Lion song)
Climb That Hill (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers cover)
Won’t Let Go
Cold Beer and Cigarettes
Magazine (Pedro the Lion song)