Concert Review: Pedro the Lion, Damien Jurado, T.W. Walsh (April 27, 2002, Kansas City, MO)

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that a Pedro the Lion show will always be a solid, moving performance. From the music and lyrics, to David Bazan’s stage manner (not to mention the Q&A sessions), there’s none of the meaningless rock n’ roll posturing that sometimes seems to be par for the course at most concerts. No anti-establishment pedantics, no preaching… just good, solid music with plenty of heart and meaning.

Opening up the night was T.W. Walsh, an artist I’ve always been meaning to check out but never really have. In other words, I’ve never gotten around to picking up that CD I keep seeing in the used bin. Perhaps it was the live setting, or the 5-piece performance, but Walsh’s songs did feel a little overdone. I got the feeling they were originally intended as quieter, more folk-oriented pieces, only to be ramped up for the tour. However, his music set the mood, being similar enough to the “headliners” to whet the audience’s appetite.

Damien Jurado and his band, Gathered In Song, were up next. I remember at last year’s Cornerstone, when Jurado came with his band and proceeded to rock out, much to everyone’s chagrin. Alright, maybe that was just me, but I had been expecting quietly moving, introspective ballads but got something far more raucous. This time, I was prepared for the distorted Damien, and came away smiling. Jurado himself was far livelier, dancing around the stage, swinging his acoustic around, and posing with microphone stand.

All but one song of the set came from I Break Chairs; Jurado closed with “Great Today,” which just happened to be one of Ghost of David’s louder moments. I’ll admit that I wanted Jurado to unplug for a little bit and play some of the ballads from his earlier albums. (“Ohio” or “Medication” would’ve been a showstopper for me.) However, I can’t say I was disappointed with his setlist, though it did take a little getting used to.

Finally, David Bazan stepped out from behind the drums and onto center stage. I’ve been loving his new material ever since I heard it last year, and even more so after getting Control. Much of the set came from Control, with two songs from Winners Never Quit and one from It’s Hard to Find a Friend. The new songs may move away from the quieter, more “sensitive” songs of It’s Hard to Find a Friend, but they’re much more conducive to a live setting, and pack more of a punch. That was especially the case with songs like “Magazine” (one of Control’s finest offerings, and one of the best songs Bazan has ever written) or “Second Best.”

And as always, Bazan took some time to answer questions from the audience. It may seem a little corny, but it’s nice to see a musician move beyond lame jokes when it comes to having a conversation with the audience. I was especially impressed by Bazan’s answer when asked why he was playing this year’s Cornerstone (on the main stage, nonetheless) after saying he wouldn’t be coming back last year. His answer once again revealed Bazan to be a person of deep conviction and honesty, and has just further cemented him in my mind as someone to really respect in an industry that seems increasingly bereft of value and integrity.