Concert Review: Pedro the Lion, Ester Drang, The Reputation (March 19, 2004, Houston, TX)

As I drove down Washington Avenue in Houston, Texas cars lined both sides of the street and I saw industrial buildings looming in the skyline. As I approached Walter’s on Washington, I knew I had to drive past the club because there was nowhere to park in the small cement lot in front of the venue. I turned around and found a parking spot behind a small green building. Walter’s on Washington didn’t seem to be in a very secure annex of the Houston metropolitan area, and I feared for the safety of my recently parked car. But as I was already late for the show, I couldn’t move to a safer location, and there was no way in Hades I was going to miss seeing Pedro the Lion.

Disregarding my car’s safety, I approached the door to Walter’s on Washington and saw two pieces of paper taped to the door stating “Sold Out” in big black marker. I took a deep breath and thanked the good Lord I had pre-paid for my ticket.

As I opened the door and walked in, the first band was already playing. The band was made up of a bearded, bald man with glasses, a young kid on bass guitar, and a blonde haired woman singing and playing an electric guitar. I couldn’t see the drummer from where I was standing, and I didn’t make much of an effort to get closer to the stage. As I stood at the back of the crowd, I couldn’t remember the name of the band, so I asked a kid standing next to me, “Hey who’s the band playing right now?” He said, “The Reputation.” “Cool,” I replied, and we stood together and listened to their set.

As the band continued to play their unique blend of indie, noise pop they reminded me slightly of Morella’s Forest or a happier Cocteau Twins, but the female vocalist sounded a lot like Liz Phair. I found out later that her name was Elizabeth Elmore and that she had been in a fairly well-known band called Sarge. The Reputation sounded great and their set ended too quickly for me.

Ester Drang was the next band scheduled to play. I have to admit they are not my favorite band. I’ve seen them about three times and I’ve never enjoyed their live show. I really like their music on CD, but in concert they put me to sleep. So when I saw them setting up a film projector I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I would have something other than the band to watch as I waited for Pedro the Lion to get onstage.

The best way to describe the music of Ester Drang is to think of Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd and subtract the pop/rock element and David Gilmour’s lead guitar parts. Great atmosphere, but the band has no stage presence. Zero, zilch, nada… these guys are the epitome of shoegazer rock.

That night Ester Drang loitered on stage, created eerie sounds with their instruments, and that’s it. I couldn’t hear the vocals very well and the band just stood around. The film projector flashed some interesting video footage, but it didn’t keep me interested for the duration of Ester Drang’s set. Some people might have called the show atmospheric, I thought it was boring. Oh well. Eventually, Ester Drang stopped playing.

At 11:00pm, David Bazan walked on stage with a Fender telecaster around his neck and a burden for the truth in his chest. His appearance was modest; he was wearing jeans, a plain, black t-shirt and his beard was slightly overgrown. Finally, David Bazan was onstage about to play his songs. With loud applause, the sold out crowd made it known that Pedro the Lion was the reason they were at Walter’s on Washington. It was almost too much excitement. Then Pedro the Lion began their set.

David Bazan, at his best, writes satiric songs that parody modern society. He sneers at materialism and greed in our world, and prefers to write and sing honest songs cutting to the core of spiritual reality. At his worst, he’s a pompous, snide, self-righteous liberal who likes to curse. Whatever your opinion of David Bazan, Pedro the Lion’s music is compelling. I personally love his music, and tonight he was in top form.

Because of the lowkey nature of Pedro the Lion’s material, I was surprised at how passionately David Bazan sang most of his material. He sank all of his heart into every word he sang. At times, he squeezed his eyelids so tight it seemed his head would explode. First and foremost, David Bazan is there to sing you his songs. He doesn’t put musical instrumentation, fashion, or the movement of his body first. Lyrical expression is the primary focus of Pedro the Lion.

Musically, Pedro the Lion’s three-piece band sounded great, but the one really odd thing about the set was I heard a bass guitar being played along with the guitar and drums, but I never saw the bass player on stage. He must have been sitting on a chair off stage somewhere. It was rather distracting to hear a bass being played, but not to see the individual wielding the instrument. (Editor’s Note: As some of you have pointed out, Bazan often plays pre-recorded bass tracks on a laptop in concerts.)

Before Pedro the Lion played their last song, Bazan told everyone to read as much about politics as they could and make an informed decision about the presidential election this year. He wasn’t going to tell anyone how to vote, he just wanted everyone in the audience to be informed about the presidential candidates. Then someone from the crowd yelled “F**k Bush.” After the outburst, David Bazan said that was “one way to look at it.” When David Bazan finished talking about politics he started the last song: “Rednecks put down their slogans and kill camel f***ers/Ain’t it a shame due process stands in the way of swift justice/We have not been paying attention.”

The “redneck” song (“Backwoods Nation” — Ed.) wrapped up the show and I was glad to have seen Pedro the Lion in concert. David Bazan may dislike our current president, use foul language, and lean a little to the left politically, but at least he is honest and sincere. Therefore, he sings and plays with the conviction of a man with nothing to hide. To me there is nothing more compelling than sincerity and I’ll listen to someone play genuine music any day of the week. We live in a world filled with sin, in need of redemption, and David Bazan won’t lie to you and say the world is perfect. He will honestly tell you we all need Jesus if you talk to him after a show. If you get a chance, and don’t mind a little foul language, check out Pedro the Lion.

Written by Scott Hearne.

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