Concert Review: Pedro the Lion, Seldom, The Elevator Division, Son, Ambulance (September 8, 2001, Lawrence, KS)

Everytime I’ve seen Pedro the Lion, it’s been at the Cornerstone Festival. And as much as I love seeing them there, I’ve never had the chance to see them in a smaller, more intimate venue… something that David Bazan’s stripped down, emotional music seems better suited for. So when my friends and I found out that Pedro would be playing down in Lawrence (a mere 4 hours away), it was something we knew we couldn’t pass up. Besides, it was high time I got out of Lincoln after some of the crap that I’d been going through.

Originally, my friends and I had planned to make this night a doubleheader, since Joy Electric and The Billions was playing at Kansas City’s New Earth Coffeehouse. I was looking forward to seeing The Billions again, since their performance at Cornerstone 2001 was hampered by poor sound. Alas, schedules didn’t allow that, but it was probably for the best, since Pedro the Lion’s show was concert aplenty.

Omaha’s own Son, Ambulance was up first, and I think the only thing that my friends and I could come up with was “Bright Eyes Lite.” If Son, Ambulance isn’t too careful, they may risk forever remaining in Conor Oberst’s shadow. There’s definitely plenty of promise, and they certainly seemed sincere enough, but it still felt too derivative for my tastes. On top of that, they sounded needlessly sloppy, as if a couple members had just joined the band that night. Of course, that could’ve been due to the fact that this was also the first date of their tour.

Besides Pedro, I was also excited to see The Elevator Division. I’ve known about these guys for awhile, when they sent me their Imaginary Days CD. Although I wasn’t too hip to their new sound, which is more stripped down and less atmospheric than Imaginary Days, it’s really grown on me in a big way. Their set consisted entirely of material from their latest CD, Movement, which has been in pretty heavy rotation here at Opus HQ. Gloomy, Cure-inspired pop of the finest sort, but still melodic enough to never seem mopey and morbid. Their performance was simply excellent, and I think I had a huge, stupid grin on my face by the second song. If these guys don’t get big in the next year or so, then I might have to sign them myself.

The evening’s wildcard was Seldom. I knew nothing about these guys and couldn’t find anything about them on the Web. I think my initial reactions were of a more new wave-oriented version of The Billions, but I got some pretty skeptical looks from my friends when I shared that impression with them. And I don’t blame them, because they were way off (must have been that Smirnoff Ice I had). After listening to their CD Places I Haven’t Seen, their music seems more along the lines of the intricate, atmospheric pop of American Football, with Denison Witmer-esque vocals thrown in for good measure. I suspect you’ll be hearing good things about these guys in the near future.

Then Pedro the Lion came up. What can I say? It was great to see them in a crowded bar, as opposed to a crowded tent in blazing heat. Half of their set consisted of material from nearly all of their releases, and the other half was brand new stuff. The newer material (which is still a work in progress, as Bazan was quick to remind us) was more along the lines of Winners Never Quit’s heavier, louder moments. One song even reminded me of Starflyer 59’s earlier material (à la Silver or Gold), minus the heartbreak. Lyrically, it’s what you’ve come to expect from Bazan; simple, sometimes disturbing stories that pack a moral punch.

And David Bazan was, well, David Bazan. As humble and nice as ever, complete with a Q&A session with the audience. Although such interaction might seem a little cheesy, I personally find it very refreshing. Maybe it’s me, but so much of the indie scene seems to revel in how cynical and clever it is. To see someone like Bazan completely break that stereotype with his honesty and humility was a very welcome change.

Now, I’m going to tell you what really made this show such a good time for me, and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the bands (though they played a part). If you have no desire to read about spiritual (read “Christian”) stuff, then now’s your time to read some album reviews.

This summer has been one of the shittiest times of my life, and I’m incredibly glad that the school year has started up again. Even though I’m no longer a student, it was nice to know that there would be some order instituted into the lives around me. But there’s still this nagging feeling that a part of this summer will stick around with me for awhile.

And that hit me hard right before going down to Lawrence. I thought I was doing pretty well in my Christian walk. Then I fucked up big time. You know how Peter felt after he’d denied Christ three times? Okay, so nowhere near that bad… but along the same lines. And even though I know it’s the enemy’s trap, that familiar self-loathing always manages to dig in a little bit every time. But then I saw all of my friends in that club with me. The music started, and none of that crap — the anger, the self-loathing, the fact that I’d failed once again — mattered one bit.

If you were to ask me what God has used more than anything else to witness to me lately, I’d have to say music. I suppose my answer should be church, or prayer, or fellowship, or something “Christian.” But it’s not. It’s at those times when I’m surrounded by people I love and we’re listening to music that we love, that I feel God loving me. It’s as if God says “I know you screwed up, and I know you’ll screw up again. But I still want you to experience this because you’re my child, and that’s all that matters.” I can’t explain it any better than that, and I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to some of you. But maybe this will…

In retrospect, I think I smiled more that night than I had the entire week.

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