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Pedro The Lion

Pedro The Lion

David Dondero

Sat, May 12, 2018

Doors: 8:30 pm / Show: 9:00 pm


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Pedro The Lion
Pedro The Lion
Pedro the Lion has always been David Bazan, but it took a long time to get back there.
In August 2016, during what he now recognizes as his lowest point, Bazan was touring the
country alone in an aging minivan and found himself in his hometown of Phoenix, AZ. In need of
a break from the road, he spent a night off at his grandparents’ house instead of driving on to
San Diego. Before leaving town the next morning, after realizing that even the most familiar
places can become unrecognizable, Bazan gave himself the gift of a quick detour past the
house he grew up in, and on the way, experienced a breakthrough - one that would lead him
both forward and back to another home he had built many years before.
From the beginning, Pedro the Lion didn’t work like the bands Bazan had played drums in,
where each player came up with their own parts. Instead, like scripting scenes of dialogue for
actors to play with, Bazan recorded and arranged all of the skeletal accompaniments for his
obsessively introspective lyrics and spare melodies. Each player would then learn their parts
and, together as a band, they brought the skeleton to life. While bandmates played on a few
recordings, Bazan often played all or most of the instruments himself.
“I found so much joy working this way,” Bazan remembers. “It came naturally and yielded a
feeling and a sound that couldn’t have existed by any other process. At the same time, I was
also aware that not everyone wanted to play in a band where the singer wrote all the parts and
might perform them on the record. Someone even suggested it might not be a valid approach
to having a band in the first place. Being insecure and wanting to find camaraderie, I became
conflicted about my natural process.”
By 2002, after recording Control, the high rate of turnover in the band finally caused Bazan to
ditch his “natural process” in favor of a collaborative writing process. When, after a couple more
years, this move did nothing to stabilize turnover, Bazan was perplexed. In November 2005,
Bazan decided to stop doing Pedro the Lion altogether.
Ironically, Bazan didn’t see “going solo” as a chance to revert back to his original process of
writing and playing all the parts. For the next decade Pedro the Lion felt off limits, even
forgotten, like a childhood home Bazan had moved out of. He pushed forward with releasing
solo albums & relentless touring in living rooms and clubs, through every part of the US and
beyond, sometimes with a band, but mostly on his own. It took a toll on his family and more
acutely on himself. By the summer of 2016, he still hadn’t found the personal clarity or the
steady collaboration he’d been seeking and was at the end of his rope.
“I had abandoned my natural way of working in the hopes of creating space for a consistent
band to write with...and it hadn’t worked. So I got a rehearsal space, mic’d up drums, bass, and
guitar, and really leaned into my original process again. It immediately felt like like home.
Before long I realized it also felt like Pedro the Lion.”

In June 2018, with Bazan on bass, vocals, and arrangement writing, Erik Walters on guitar and
backing vocals, and Sean Lane on drums, Pedro the Lion went into Studio X and Hall of Justice
with producer Andy Park to create Phoenix, the first new Pedro album in 15 years.
The songs themselves are the result of mining your past for who you are now. On opening
track “Yellow Bike,” Bazan encapsulates a core ache he’s been exploring since 1998’s It’s Hard
to Find a Friend with the line:
My kingdom
For someone to ride with
Phoenix also deals with having to be better to yourself in order to be better to others on
“Quietest Friend,” and harkens back to Control’s “Priests and Paramedics” with a story about
EMTs facing a gruesome scene, and storytelling as coping mechanism, on “Black Canyon.” It
bears witness to both what was around and what was inside, with the signature kindness and
forgiveness that lightens Pedro the Lion’s darkest notes.
The result is a twisting, darkly hopeful introspection into home and what it means to go back, if
you ever can. It is rock and roll wrapped in tissue paper, its hard edges made barely soft. Every
melody is careful, a delicate upswing buoyed by guitar lines that hold each tender feeling
together like string before ripping them apart to see what’s inside. It is an ode to the place he
still loves despite how alien it can appear to him now. It is the story of a life from the beginning,
but not a linear one. This life is a circle, and Phoenix goes back to that first point, to show that
when we are looking for home we’ll eventually run into it again, whether it’s in the desert, in a
rehearsal space, or on a stage.
David Dondero
David Dondero
If there's one singer/songwriter out there who has paid his dues several times over, it is highway poet and American troubadour David Dondero. In evidence of this, David has released an all-new full-length album titled "This Guitar." A career-defining piece of work if ever I've heard one, this collection of Dondero originals is not just a continuation of his signature outbound sound but the turning of a significant page in the rambling life of an artist who has given everything to music and received very little in return. That is, until now, with the recording and pressing of "This Guitar" having been funded entirely through fan donations and other such contributions through Kickstarter. As such, this album stands as David's first departure from releasing through record labels.

Throughout the eleven songs on "This Guitar," David's ninth studio album to date, he actually manages to top much of his earlier material, and undeniably gives his all as an artist…and then some. The selfsame song, a poignantly autobiographical title track, explains his love/hate relationship with music, with his guitar and the life it has brought him over the years. But he also sings of how he will keep at it until his end, or until he "slips away," as the song goes. And that is a statement one cannot doubt, since it is very clear that David cannot be anything other than what he is—a born singer/songwriter, as well as a drifter, a poet, and a singularly gifted fringe artist.

While listening to the eleven songs on "This Guitar," one will come across slow pickers with tremulous vocals, folky acoustic strummers with clever wordplay, and rock-tinged compositions with auxiliary instrumentation, like keys and horns. There is something undeniably genuine and uncompromising about this handful of songs, something deep and engrossing, from the note progression and emotive vocals of the opener Roses and Rain to the closer, which is the guitar version of the title track, with its beautiful picking and profoundly stirring vocal delivery. "This Guitar" isn't the end of the road for David but rather a truck stop along the way; a collection of songs marking the experiences and observations, and the thoughts and feelings visited upon him as he moves between destinations.

"This Guitar," at its core, is the result of a long music career that has taken away more than it has given, a gift which at times has seemed like more of a curse, and which has left him standing too often somewhere along the open road with a few crumbled bills in his pocket and his guitar in his hand. A guitar which seemingly goes from a burden one moment to a blessing the next, from heavy as an albatross to light as a feather—the duality of its very existence, it would seem, at least as it pertains to this specific owner. But David is unquestionably at his very best when overcome by trials and tribulations, when he is a struggling artist, when the horizon seems so impossibly far down the stretch of highway upon which he travels, and when he's had too much to drink and finds himself in the sort of mad situations he eventually writes about and effectively transforms into song.

In the song Take A Left Turn at Boise, David shows he is still "the Transient." Boxer's Fracture is actually a rather solemn song, and artistically metaphorical in its way, though not without a small sense of hope about it. Then there's the drinking song, aptly titled Alcohol, in which David sings about yet another thing in this life with which he has developed a love/hate relationship. While many of the songs on "This Guitar" are quite personal, there are a few by means of which David conveys some pretty important socio-political messages. First there is Samantha's Got A Bag of Coal, in which David's lyrical content focuses primarily on the worst side of humanity, like the runaway capitalism train that has taken all of the haves to their desired destination and left all the have-nots behind ("money-driven bastards putting profits over people"); dishonest preachers selling people a religion they themselves can't even practice properly and ethically ("the hypocrite who's preaching in the church under the steeple"); small-minded homophobes that drive gay, lesbian and transgendered people over the edge with their persecutions and senseless hate crimes ("homophobic bigots spreading violence on the people"); authorities that are supposed to protect and serve but only end up harassing and harming ("the overzealous cop acting like he's the Gestapo"); and so on. And then there's New Berlin Wall, in which David speaks out for the illegal immigrants senselessly deported, for the legal citizens that have tragically fallen victim to racial profiling, and against the absurd lengths the U.S. will go to enforce border security.

In a past review I referred to David Dondero as the Kerouac of outsider folk music. And that holds just as true today as it did back then, perhaps even more so. And in 2006, when NPR's All Songs Considered named David one of the "best living songwriters" alongside Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Tom Waits, they knew exactly what they were doing.
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