Words by Brian Dove
Photos by Craig Zirpolo
When I was 20 years old, I got to hang out backstage at the National when David Bazan was on tour with City & Colour. It was the first time I got to experience an artist that I looked up to and was inspired by (Bazan) as a normal, relatable human being.
After getting to hang out with him a bit backstage, I watched from the balcony as he performed alone on the National’s gigantic stage. Bazan has a way of commanding a room unlike any artist I’ve ever seen and to my memory this was no exception.
After the show, the bands, Bazan, and the friend I came with all walked down to Capital Ale House to have a few beers. I biked home, disappointed, alone, and underage. It seems only fitting that six years later, I biked through the cool air of spring to go see Bazan perform at Cap Ale to a wide-eyed and attentive crowd.
Richmond’s Saw Black opened up the evening with songs from his February Crystal Pistol release, Azalea Days. While he has recently put together a band around those tracks, on this evening he performed solo, with just an electric guitar and harmonica. To be frank, the harmonica usually does nothing for me aside from making me think of that damn Blue’s Traveler song, but Saw’s expressiveness with the instrument made me reconsider my narrow-minded view. He plays the harmonica almost lyrically, and seemingly with his entire body, pushing and pulling his breath through it as if he’s singing.
Saw’s narrative songs about love, loss, drug use/abuse, family, and growing up captivated the crowd of Bazan fans (and a bunch of Saw’s family members, including his 89 year old grandfather) from start to finish.
At the end of the set, he lightened up the mood by closing with Criminal Cigarettes, a goofy tune that I learned later is a favorite of Saw’s eight year old cousin. I guess when you’re eight all cigarettes are criminal, anyway.
After a short break, Bazan took the stage and opened with a couple of songs from his most recent record, Care, which came out this March. Care is a moody piece of synthesizer-based songs that, when stripped down to just Bazan and an acoustic guitar, somehow feel even more solemn.
Following a short introduction (“Hello everybody, I’m called Dave. Thanks so much for being here.”) and some not-so-subtle hints at Bazan’s feelings about our current political hellscape, he went into some older songs, including some by Pedro the Lion, the prolific indie rock outfit Bazan fronted from 1995-2006.
A reoccurring theme in every Bazan set I’ve seen is the frequent offerings for conversation between performer and audience.
“Does anyone have any questions at this point? Anything you want to talk about? Is everyone comfortable?” were all questions posed from the stage last night.
One fan asked why Bazan never tours with a drummer anymore to which he answered, “Drummers are amazing, but you have to feed them, and put them up in hotel rooms, and pay them money. They’re amazing but they’re expensive.” I have a feeling there’s a little more to why Bazan has been touring exclusively solo since 2012, but this dry joke of an answer is a nice glimpse into David Bazan Regular Human Being™ that one gets through his engagement with the audience.
Stories about listening to Harry Potter audiobooks while touring with his seven year old son, honest explanations of the frustrations of working with a record label, and an earnest plea to the audience to be aware of their servers’ hard work and potential needs as they fill out their tips at the end of the night comfortably filled the negative space between the solemn songs Bazan performed.
Something that has always struck me in Bazan’s songwriting, and something that has heavily influenced my own, is his ability to find meaning in the mundane. In Inner Lives, a regular morning with someone important becomes something a little more: “Without a word you made coffee for us both. Without thinking I sat down and made a joke. The way you laughed at me threw off a little spark, in an instant I remembered who we are.” These words aren’t said dramatically, but rather matter-of-fact, as Bazan acknowledges the importance of the small moments with others.
Last night’s show was anything but mundane, but it was the small moments that made the performance and the night as a whole so memorable.
Check out photos from both sets below: