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When David Bazan tweeted in the early morning hours last Friday that a drunk driver had smashed into his parked tour van in Chicago, one of the first things that sprung to mind–after learning that the former Pedro the Lion leader and his bandmates were unharmed–was a couple lines from “Bands With Managers,” the opening tune on Pedro’s final studio album, 2004’s Achilles Heel: “Vans with 15 passengers are rolling over/ But I trust T. William Walsh and I’m not afraid to die.”
– Former Pedro the Lion Frontman Burns Bridges at Both Ends
“That’s the first time that anything like this has ever happened, in all my years of touring,” Bazan says over the phone from Toronto, explaining that he, bassist Andy Fitts, and drummer Alex Westcoat were at a bar hanging out with Crooked Fingers’ Eric Bachmann–who was also in Chicago to play a show–when the accident happened. The drunk driver was arrested. The band’s trailer was totaled, a kick drum and some other gear was damaged, and the van needed some serious repairs. But Bazan and company still made it to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a gig on Saturday night.
The incident may recall that Achilles lyric, but Bazan’s currently on the road behind another chapter from Pedro’s past: The band’s penultimate 2002 LP, Control. Aside from it being the 10th anniversary of that celebrated album, it, along with four other Pedro releases (It’s Hard To Find a Friend, Winners Never Quit, Only Reason I Feel Secure, and Achilles Heel) was just reissued on vinyl by Jade Tree on October 30. The aforementioned Walsh, who was a member of Pedro in the band’s final few years, remastered all of them except Winners (engineer John McCaig handled that one).
Marking the 10-year milestone by playing the album in its entirety (in a set that also features other Pedro and solo material), says Bazan–who’s been recording and touring under his own name since retiring the Pedro moniker in 2006–has been even more rewarding than he imagined when he first conceived this jaunt. “We’ve played seven of the 10 songs [on Control] at various points over the last three years, but playing all of them together like this is really fun and it makes me like each of them a little better,” he says. “Emotionally, I’m able to find the spark that spurred writing them by doing it in this context.”
Control‘s craggy, alternately chugging and crawling guitar-rock is in the service of a song cycle about a businessman who’s murdered by his wife over his infidelities; images of illicit motel sex, religion, greed, materialism, and existential angst swirl together on what many Pedro fans consider the band’s best, most fully realized album.
“The record is pretty character-driven–it was coming out of a sense of the themes and the feelings and the mood I wanted to trade in and communicate at the time–and I feel like as a narrative, the characters and the perspectives they present still feel pretty believable to me,” says Bazan. “So that’s the thing that I really sink my teeth into when I’m playing these songs, going into these characters’ minds and their despair and their disappointment and their cynicism.
“It doesn’t feel as cartoony as I thought it was a few years after it came out,” he continues. “For a while I kind of dismissed Control, like, ‘Ehhh, it’s just so heavy-handed.’ I’m a much more content person now than I was then, my life has become more settled in a lot of ways, but I do connect with it. Every now and then, some of the expressions on the record seem mildly juvenile, really cheeky, like, ‘They’ll naturally like the taste of corporate cum.’ I probably wouldn’t write that line now, I was kinda trying it on then, but whatever. Right now I really, really enjoy the record.”
At first, there was some talk of touring under the name Pedro the Lion, particularly since the band–which formed in 1995–always was Bazan at the center of a rotating cast of musical collaborators. “But I don’t like how that feels,” says Bazan. “I plan on playing my own shows under my own name for years and years to come, so I want this tour to count in the development of that brand recognition or whatever you want to call it.”
He also briefly thought about augmenting his current trio, which has been playing together for the past three years, with a few members from Pedro’s past, such as Walsh or Casey Foubert. But replacing Fitts and Westcoat was never a consideration. “Aside from the chemistry we have, they’ve invested their time and energy in this, so when it comes time to do a fun thing like this, I would want to reward their loyalty with loyalty,” says Bazan.
“At this point it’s just like, this is the Bazan band playing this record, not the reuniting of one of the 20 forms of Pedro the Lion,” he laughs. “I think there’s been a sense all these years since Pedro the Lion [ended] that people just haven’t been making the connection that while it says ‘Bazan band’ on the bill, it’s Pedro the Lion, for all intents and purposes. If someone wants to lament the fact that they never got to see a Pedro show, it’s still always a Pedro show, it’s just not called that. So hopefully after this tour, all of the remaining Pedro the Lion fans who haven’t made that connection will get it.”
David Bazan Band plays Pedro the Lion’s Control(and other songs) at Mercury Lounge tonight (9:30 p.m./$16-$18) and Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow night (9 p.m./$16-$18).