Serenading New Hampshire.
Tuesday, Sept. 1
No one writes better — or angrier — songs about God than David Bazan, slow-core sad-sack mastermind of Pedro the Lion and various solo escapades, his calm, gorgeously bitter baritone enunciating every syllable of every word with perfect, painful clarity. You’d sleep better at night if he mumbled. One song on his new Curse Your Branches begins “With the threat of hell hanging over my head like a halo” and ends “If you knew what would happen and you made us just the same/Then you, my lord, can take the blame.” Tales of alcoholism and spiritual doubt abound, but they’re delivered with such pristine beauty (very Pacific Northwest indie-rock, moping but grandiose) and cheerful cuddliness that even epic downers like album opener “Hard to Be” (as in “Hard to be a decent human being”) are bizarrely life-affirming. Maybe it’s all the beards.
Tonight’s a quasi-secret early-evening gig with a nearly all-Branches setlist: “Please, Baby, Please,” in which a recovering alcoholic imagines his daughter killing someone while drunk driving, is easily the most upbeat and catchy song on that topic, his four-man/three-beard backing band supplying a litany of elegiac guitar solos, video-arcade keyboard lines, enthusiastic shakers and tambourines. But God is Bazan’s primary muse and adversary: Jessica Hopper’s excellent Chicago Reader piece sums the battle up nicely. These days he mostly wages it in living rooms, doing “house shows” for a handful of people at a time (parameters here), the better to facilitate the question-and-answer sessions threaded between his songs. “Are you still drinking?” someone asks. “Well, that’s pineapple juice,” Bazan responds, nodding to the glass at his feet. “But yes, in small quantities.” Another exchange is blunter, and more revelatory. Dude in crowd: “Can you save me?” Answer: “No.”