review: Pedro the Lion sounded more energized than ever at Brooklyn reunion show
David Bazan has stayed active with various projects in the 11 years since putting an end to Pedro the Lion, but it's clear that both he and his fans are very happy to see him once again assuming his role as the leader of that project. From the moment they opened their set at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg last night (8/15), they sounded loud and crisp, and looked very happy to be doing what they were doing, and the receptive crowd wasted no time bopping their heads and cheering them on. Bazan made a joke or two on stage about how playing under the Pedro the Lion name and performing that band's many classic songs is more just sustainable for him than playing with his other projects, but it didn't seem like he was just doing it as a "cash grab." It seemed like the frontman of Pedro the Lion is genuinely what Bazan wants to be right now, and it's not even a nostalgia thing. The band are gearing up to release their new album Phoenix in February 2019 via Polyvinyl, and when they played the new song "Quietest Friend" from it last night, it fit in perfectly with the classics. That's not too surprising, considering they played some Pedro the Lion-style reworks of recent David Bazan solo songs, and those fit in perfectly too. Given how prolific and consistently great Bazan has been lately, a new Pedro the Lion album seems like it'll feel a lot more natural than your average "reunion" album. (It also doesn't feel totally accurate to call this a "reunion." Bazan is the only current member who was also in the band the first time around.)
It's also definitely not a nostalgia thing for Bazan, because he actually seems kind of embarrassed about a lot of the old Pedro the Lion songs. His funny stage banter last night was about as entertaining as the songs themselves, but he also got serious and talked more than once about how he looks back at his old songs and sees them contributing to toxic masculinity. One of them -- "Rapture" -- he even said he won't play anymore. He addressed his fellow white dudes in the crowd, and talked about how it's been a long time coming that he and the rest of the white dudes realize how damaging white male privilege and toxic masculinity can be, and that it's time to make a change. He gave his first of these speeches after just playing two songs, and said to use it as a "guide" to the rest of the show, to realize that Bazan was young and unaware of the culture he was contributing to when he wrote a lot of these songs, and to not take these songs to mean it's okay to contribute to that culture any further. He was met with huge cheers. One woman even yelled "Thank you!"
With all that in mind, it was easy to take Pedro the Lion for what they aimed to be in 2018: a great rock band. It was kind of amazing how massive they could sound with nothing more than Bazan on bass, Erik Walters on guitar, and Sean Lane on drums (no second guitar, no keyboards). A lot of the time, their songs actually sounded bigger, tighter, and more energized than they do on their classic albums. If they harnessed that same energy when they made Phoenix, it should turn out to be a pretty damn good album. And if you're still on the fence about catching PTL on this tour, just do it.
Opening the show was Mount Moriah singer H.C. McEntire (and her excellent backing band), playing songs off of her solo debut, Lionheart, which came out earlier this year via Merge. The alt-country band made for a nice contrast with Pedro the Lion's emo-ish indie rock, and they sounded great. Heather's voice is as pristine live as it is on album, and her powerful pipes could fill an arena if given the chance. Bazan praised them a lot during his set too, and you could tell he was genuinely honored to have them on this tour. After witnessing their razor-sharp opening set, who could blame him?
We didn't get pictures of this show, but you can check out pictures of the previous night's NYC show at Bowery Ballroom in the gallery above. Bazan also mentioned on stage that, in addition to the new album on Polyvinyl, their back catalog will soon be available via Epitaph. Stay tuned.