david bazan [2012]

Living Room
Oakland, CA
7 May 2012

All shows should be played in living rooms. There are very few scenarios I can imagine in which this would not be beneficial for all those involved. Certainly, the artist might argue otherwise, from a financial standpoint, but man, seeing David Bazan tonight in a living room in Oakland, it’s hard to argue with anything at all.

The show was sublime. There were 43 people in the room, including Bazan. It was the front room of a Craftsman-style home, within view of Shattuck and Alcatraz. So close to an intersection I’ve known so well for so many years and yet, on this particular night, so strangely removed from anything familiar. My friend and I were in the cheap seats, backs against the wall, 15 feet away from Bazan. He’s done this kind of living room tour at least once before: manager sends out an email to his fan list, asking if anyone can host a show in select cities, on a certain night.

Bazan opened with “Hard To Be” and it was near-perfect. A song I have long enjoyed (especially the bookmarked beginning and end melody), but this was something altogether different. Easily the best rendition I’ve ever heard him play, recorded or live. I was nearly and then literally brought to tears. The recorded mid-tempo electronic-tinged version was stripped down to half-speed, a deliberate acoustic revelation.

I’ve seen Bazan perform many times before, but never like this – never in such an intimate setting. Even in shows where he performed without a backing band – just him and his guitar – it had never been like this. And in seeming recognition of this special setting, Bazan slowed down the tempo of almost every song, at times transforming them into nearly unrecognizable creations. This could have been awful. It was instead remarkable.

The show began at 8:00. It being May, the sun still lit the room when Bazan began. Over the course of the show, the sun gradually fell and brought us into darkness. Bazan was barely visible, backlit from diffused streetlamps. Nobody mentioned this for some time, as if doing so would break the wonderful spell. Finally, the host asked if he wanted to have some light so that we could see him more clearly. Bazan replied: “My face is not the best part of the show.”

And that is a significant part of Bazan’s charm. He pours his heart, his politics, so sincerely into his music, but his dry, direct humor is always there. He kept the audience laughing throughout the night. In one of his trademark question and answer sessions (“Does anyone have any questions?”), Bazan was asked about his one-off side project, Headphones, and whether he would consider using the name again. Bazan’s reply: “A rose by any other name would be just as sweaty and weird.”

There was a sadness to this night that had nothing to do with the often tragic content of Bazan’s songs. It had everything to do with my belief that his music will never be as warm and powerful outside of a living room. And so I look forward to his next local living room show, and the beauty that will most surely follow.