April 4, 2007

Pedro the Lion Alum Wows Cornell

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There’s something magical about a singer with nothing but an acoustic guitar. Without a backing band, an artist is in their most vulnerable state, their music and soul totally exposed. Two “naked” artists, David Bazan with Paul Buccholz, performed at the Fanclub show at Hans Bethe House on Friday night. Both sets were brilliant, revealing the raw power of acoustic guitar coupled with smart lyrics and strong vocals.

Cornell’s own Paul Buccholz, a grad student in German Literature, started off the night with a short set of intelligent songs about broken hearts, headless horsemen, global warming, and displaced wolves. Buccholz’s performance was tender, heartfelt, and enlightening. Between songs, he made the crowd laugh with charming statements about his songs, while poking a little fun at himself. His stand out performance was on a track called “Hot Air Balloon,” a song about global warming. His lyrics contained some good black humor: “You probably shouldn’t have children/‘Cause it will all be over soon,” reminding us in an unpreachy way of the importance of protecting our Earth. Buchholz’ intelligent lyrics, cozy vocal style, and skillful guitar work provided the perfect opening for David Bazan.

Bazan, of Pedro The Lion and Headphones, played an incredible set. He showed himself in a different light than Pedro The Lion, as his songs were stripped down to rely merely on his guitar and beautiful church boy voice. He opened with “I Do” from Pedro The Lion’s 2004 release Achilles Heel. Live, against his simple guitar playing, the lyrics such as “It’s time to bury dreams and raise a son to live vicariously through” were unclothed for the audience to contemplate. Bazan reminded us of the inevitability of adulthood in a tender, honest way. Bazan’s songs are often modern folk tales, and in their acoustic form the richness of his lyrics was heightened.

The set moved along and Bazan played many old Pedro The Lion favorites as well as a Headphones song. One of the highlights of the night was his cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” which elicited many cheers from the crowd and had some members of the audience singing along. Attempting to cover Dylan is an intimidating task for any artist, but Bazan’s laid back style on guitar and warm, soothing voice complimented Dylan’s track, producing a beautiful rendition.

Bazan’s song writing sometimes tells rather gruesome allegorical tales. Toward the end of the set he played another song from Achilles Heel, “Transcontinental.” Before he started the song, he announced, “Here’s a song about a guy getting his legs chopped off … then dying,” but reminded us that this image is metaphorical. Bazan put incredible energy into this performance, laying his soul bare with such lyrics as “The luxury of having been spared the hard part/You’d think would be enough for me to pull this off.”

“But I’m left to bleed to death, now all the man I’ve ever been.” “Transcontinental” is a great example of Bazan’s ability to create intelligent pop songs that remind his audience of some greater aspect of humanity. In “Transcontintenal” he asks how we will be remembered when we die. His choir-like voice and simple lyrics package these difficult questions in an easily listenable format, but still leave the audience to contemplate the deeper message in his words.

The set closed with “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” from his solo EP, Fewer Moving Parts. The lyrics tell a story of a man traveling the country who meets with many unfortunate accidents due to his promiscuity and binge-drinking. Ultimately, he causes an accident which ends with a parking lot in flames. Bazan crooned: “No one wants to stop/Until they get to where they’re going/ I’ll get to where I’m going pretty soon,” reminding us that, especially as students, we are all overly eager to become something, but sometimes we need to just slow down and appreciate the scenery.

Bazan is comfortable singing about almost anything: sex, war, growing up, social critique. While his lyrics are often melancholy, his performance gives a kind of hope. He reminded us that although his lyrics are often bleak, “I am a happy guy. I like people and things.” The world is complicated and tragic, but there is beauty to be found throughout. That kind of beauty was found in Bazan’s performance where his lyrical story-telling had the audience spell-bound. For about an hour, we could step outside our hectic student lives and focus on his captivating performance. Bazan reminded us there’s a wider world out there beyond our little Cornell bubble, and his beautiful voice certainly rang with this sentiment in my mind long after his performance was over.