Rock Roundup

The Restless Style of David Bazan

The Seattle-based musician revisits his songs with Passenger String Quartet at Turner Hall.

By - Nov 3rd, 2014 02:48 pm
David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet

David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet

Top Show: David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet at Turner Hall,  Monday, November 10

The restless musician, like Miles Davis until the 1980s or Bob Dylan until perhaps the mid-1970s, has the mythic, romantic and poetic quality of a hero who willfully sheds his past while pursuing his next vision.

Yet the reality for most musicians who must tour (which is now most musicians, period) is that they will have to revisit their past every time they get onstage: even the fans who adore the newest material want to hear the older stuff too.

Indie-rock singer-songwriter David Bazan is basing his current tour and album on the older stuff, but the accompaniment of the Passenger String Quartet live and in the studio makes open and plain his desire to interpret the past through a different perspective.

This is appropriate for a man who, a few years ago, didn’t abandon his religious past—a childhood with a pastor father, a band-like project called Pedro the Lion that often dealt with Christian themes—so much as he viewed it through eyes rinsed by healthy skepticism.

Bazan also hasn’t abandoned his yearning for collaborative connection: in the Undertow Orchestra alone, he worked with Vic Chesnutt, Will Johnson, and Mark Eitzel, and on his nominally second “solo” LP, 2011’s Strange Negotiations, he locked into the music with the help of bassist Andy Fitts and drummer Alex Westcoat.

The Passenger String Quartet has its own long history of playing well with others, including Suzanne Vega and DJ Spooky. On David Bazan + Passenger String Quartet Volume 1, the musicians find elegance without pomposity and explore old territory in the hopes of finding things Bazan hadn’t noticed before.

Bazan hasn’t just been revisiting. With his “Bazan Monthly” project, he’s been dropping two new songs a month since July, and those songs show promising signs of restlessness with form and style. Even fans who want to hear the older stuff might want to hear what the Passenger String Quartet can do with the freshly minted material.

A sample of what to anticipate:


Thursday, November 6: Chuck Prophet at Shank Hall

Although Chuck Prophet was born in Whittier, California—the same town where Richard Nixon liked to claim to have grown up—the people in his songs have hopes, dreams, hearts and souls like Detroit: desolate, forsaken, and mocked. And, somehow, still feisty.

Prophet is also feisty. When not playing guitar for anyone from Jewel to the late Warren Zevon, he’s weld-sculpted scraps of rock and country into rusty hulks of down home beauty—a la the best Tom Petty or the usual from Prophet’s pal Alejandro Escovedo—on solo discs like this year’s Night Surfer.


Friday, November 7: Tommy Castro and the Painkillers at Shank Hall

Anytime from 21 to 14 years ago, Tommy Castro looked ready for ascension into to popularity beyond a dedicated blues-rock fan base. The San Francisco-based guitarist and singer was fronting his own band and getting nods from the renowned likes of B.B. King. But none of the grander predictions panned out.

However, hard luck is famously a true friend to a bluesman, and his latest album, The Devil You Know, shows that trouble has been as kind to his music as the larger public has not been. With a newer band, the Painkillers, Castro has stripped down to bone and sinew, creating soul music for street corners and neighborhood bars.


Friday, November 7: The 1975 at Rave

Since this is a paragraph about music from Manchester—that is, the best-known English city besides London— it must mention the high point of Joy Division and the low point of Oasis. Because the 1975—that is, the Manchester band by that name—is from there.

Now that the hype about the quartet has had a year to settle following the release of its self-titled debut album, the 1975 clearly occupies a bright spot just about midway between the aforementioned high and low bands. The band makes glossy pop and rock suited for teen-movie soundtracks…but it’s very good of its kind.


Saturday, November 8: Damion Romero at Cactus Club

If too many current practitioners of electronic music (especially EDM, electronic dance music) look like lazy bastards who press a couple buttons and let the audience do the rest, then a truly experimental musician like Damion Romero bears the mien of a theremin player whose every finger twitch can alter the sounds emerging around him.

With “feedback regenerators” and other equipment that he’s often designed himself, Romero adjusts and regulates fascinating noise that seems to be communicating as much to itself as with any humans. What Romero does is not unlike what Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke did in 1968 with the “Beyond the Infinite” passage of 2001: A Space Odyssey: he alters perceptions.

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