Tuesday July 4/2006 (Happy birthday to America and my little brother Benjamin Keith Johnson)
Artist: David Bazan
Album/Concert: Fewer Moving Parts
For a long time now, David Bazan has been pushing the boundaries of thoughtful indie rock.
With his best-known project, Pedro the Lion, he won legions of fans both inside and out of the Christian community. That band developed from what seemed to be obviously spiritual beginnings, but the lines have blurred incredibly over 10 years and half a dozen albums, leaving many religious fans scratching their heads in wonder about the PTL enigma.
“I believe in God and the Bible and everything, but I ain’t no fucking Christian,” Bazan once said during a show at Toronto’s Horseshow Tavern, raising more than a few eyebrows among the mostly non-drinking, Christian crowd.
Then there was the Paperback side project, another album or two from Pedro, then the Headphones experiment that left guitars behind and focused on keyboards and vocals.
And now, Bazan has stripped it all down, releasing and touring on his new EP, Fewer
Moving Parts, as a solo, acoustic act.
I’m past being worried when Bazan takes a turn like this. There’s a quiet confidence among long-time fans that whatever he puts his hand to will somehow turn to gold.
FMP is no exception, Bazan proved during a Saturday night performance in Toronto.
Playing in a small church to a sit-down crowd, he played 90 minutes of new stuff mixed with standard favourites from PTL and Headphones, mixing in his now-famous Q and A sessions between songs, answering queries with an understated honesty that has become his trademark.
Control’s Priests and Paramedics and Indian Summer, Achilles Heel’s I Do, Transcontinental and The Devil is Beating His Wife, rounded out the new numbers, including Fewer Broken Pieces, Cold Beer and Cigarettes, Selling Advertising, How I Remember and Backwoods Nation.
When I first began listening to Pedro years ago, the apparently honest, genuine songwriting tricked me into thinking every song was somehow a personal exposition on Bazan’s life. I was a little disheartened to eventually learn that his trick is to put himself in the place of a character, try to get in their head, and write from that perspective.
Once I got over the disappointment I was, and still am, awed by his ability to do this so convincingly. I Do, which describes the regret of marriage and parenthood in an almost sinister fashion, is a perfect example of this.
When his tiny head emerged
from blood and folds of skin
I thought to myself
If he only knew, he would climb right back in
And that transitions to:
Now that my blushing bride has done what she was born to do
Its time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through
The sperm swims for the egg
The finger for the ring
If I could take one back
I know what it would be
I do, I do, I do.
Like much of the PTL songbook it’s dark and brooding and full of deep regret – but at the same time it’s poignant, beautiful and somehow almost holy. He once told me after a show that that song explores a moment of doubt, or regret, fear or uncertainty, that he and his wife have both felt at various points in their relationship. But it’s not a description of how he feels about his wife or daughter – whom he seems to love dearly.
However, if there’s a song on FMP that has autobiographical content, it has to be Fewer Broken Pieces.
The song explores the nature of maintaining control at all costs, being a disappointment to friends, being proud and hurting the people around you.
“Fewer moving parts mean fewer broken pieces
When every other start requires a brand new thesis.
One good friend remarks with a rightfully angry ‘Jesus dude, none of us know what to do with you.’
And I in my pride responded, ‘I’ve got news for you, none of you have to,’
‘Cus I still run the show, and don’t you forget it.
So I have to let some go. Don’t think I don’t regret it,
‘Cus I do, and I don’t, think I’m better off alone.
It’s easy to picture Tim Walsh, formerly of PTL, saying those words to Bazan, expressing frustration at the decision to put the band on hold, or maybe kill it all together, leaving a committed, contributing member and old friend to find another way to pay the bills.
The song must be an illustration of one of Bazan’s own weaknesses – a window into something he’s struggled with over the past year or two. I’m convinced of it. But then again, it’s a measure of his brilliance that even now, as I write these words, I know I just might be way off.
Like always, he’s keeping people guessing with a mixture of brutal honesty and creative momentum that makes him impossible to pigeonhole. And somehow in the midst of all that, the music just keeps getting better, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.