Pedro the Lion played its 39th (of 40) show of the It’s Hard to Find a Friend + Control Tour 2023 at Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo House of Music on a recent Saturday evening. With guitarist Erik Walters’s opening set, a near capacity crowd enjoyed three hours of music that spanned genres from folk-punk to indie rock to wall of sound grunge.
Multi-instrumentalist David Bazan, along with Walters on guitar and drummer Terence Ankeny played every song off two fan favorite albums, 1998’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend (Jade Tree) and 2002’s Control (Jade Tree), celebrating their 25th and 21st anniversaries. The two critically acclaimed albums defined Pedro the Lion’s sound and gave founding member Dave Bazan a vehicle for speaking his mind.
Stream Pedro the Lion’s latest album, Havasu, on Spotify.
Bazan founded Pedro the Lion in the late 1990s and, like Canadian folk/rock singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, created music that professed faith in a higher power but also gave voice to many whose beliefs were tested by their questions about religious institutions and life’s realities.
Pedro the Lion has, in a sense, two histories: the first from when Dave Bazan founded the band in 1995 to its dissolution in 2006, and then again as he resurrected it in 2017 through the present. By the mid-aughts, questioning his faith, Bazan eventually left the church and retired the Pedro the Lion name. A subsequent solo career produced five albums and gave him the space to examine his changing world view, and explore new sonic textures in his music. But that era also resulted in an unfortunate personal incident.
In 2005, performing at Cornerstone, the annual Christian music festival held near Bushnell, Illinois, Bazan was invited to leave the grounds after getting shit-faced. Carrying around a milk jug full of vodka at an officially dry festival is frowned upon, apparently (he was invited back in 2009 and as noted on his website, “for the first time in four years, without incident. Everyone has a great time.”) But when one contemplates that a previously held lifelong faith could be a lie, substance and alcohol abuse can sometimes become debilitating personal demons.
These broad historical notes put into context a couple things Bazan said during the show at Wild Buffalo House of Music on July 1. About midway through the first album’s performance, he paused to address the audience saying, “This is our 39th show. I was unsure if I’d be enjoying myself by this point on the tour” (he assured us that he was).
But it was his comment that he was a young man of 22 when he wrote the songs on It’s Hard to Find a Friend that struck a nerve, “It’s great to be 22 years old but I misunderstood the space I was in at the time.” Although he was talking about how his faith has changed since the early days, Bazan could have easily been acknowledging how as we reach middle-age, we look back on our younger selves wondering who we were then, and how we’ve (hopefully) grown. For an artist or musician, that realization can be both painful and exhilarating. Saturday night it was truly exhilarating.
Erik Walters, like David Bazan, is based out of Seattle and gave us a short opening set that featured his distinctive and emotional guitar playing. Coaxing a range of sounds out of his electrified acoustic guitar, with Bazan on drums and Ankeny on bass (a sort of reconfigured Pedro the Lion), Walters established an energetic vibe that would last all evening and which was amped up even more when Pedro the Lion, with Bazan and Ankeny swapping instruments, took the stage shortly afterwards.
Opening the show with “Big Trucks,” a song about a father explaining empathy and compassion to his son, seemed an appropriate start for a performance that was about examining life’s changes. Running first through It’s Hard to Find a Friend, the songs’ running order was rearranged to maximize their emotional impact.
Listen to “Big Trucks” by Pedro the Lion on YouTube:
The third song of the set, the power pop, FM radio friendly, “Promise,” is actually the album closer, but placed early in the set nicely rounded out the show’s upbeat introduction. “The Well” followed, its gloomy mood establishing an effective point-counterpoint for the evening.
Launching into Control with “Progress,” a heavy melancholy settled over the music and the room. Though a contrast in musical styles, lyrically the albums are similar, questioning, abandoning, and reaffirming faith. Musically, Control draws more heavily on grunge influences, with its wall of sound feel more than capably handled by the trio. Including “Bad Diary Days” (from the first album) during the show’s second half was an unexpected but welcome surprise and provided, once again, a musically compelling point-counterpoint to set up the next song.
“Options,” though ostensibly a love song, serves also as a metaphor for a broken trust. If one is testing one’s faith, one might write lyrics like, “I could never divorce you without a good reason, and though I may never have to, it’s good to have options.” With its descending bass line and fuzzed out, straight-ahead rock sound, the song optimistically builds upon its instantly hummable melody.
The evening’s final song, “Secret of the Easy Yoke,” laid out in plain detail Bazan’s ongoing questions-the struggle between religion as an institution and the role of Christianity to guide one’s personal spiritual journey: “I could hear the church bells ringing, they pealed aloud your praise. The members faces were smiling, with their hands outstretched to shake. It’s true they did not move me, my heart was hard and tired. Their perfect fire annoyed me, I could not find you anywhere.” For Pedro the Lion fans, one’s identity can be a changing thing as Bazan’s music and beliefs have evolved over the years. But perhaps as we grow, we begin to realize that the questions themselves, the journey, matter more than the answers and the final destination.
Listen to “Secret of the Easy Yoke” by Pedro the Lion on YouTube:
Setlist for Pedro the Lion on 7/1/23 (from setlist.fm):
It’s Hard to Find a Friend*
When They Really Get to Know You, They Will Run
Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives
Suspect Fled the Scene
Of Up and Coming Monarchs
The Longer I Lay Here
Bad Diary Days*
The Longest Winter
Priests and Paramedics
Secret of the Easy Yoke
Please visit Pedro the Lion’s website for information on future tour plans, new music, and videos.
Here are some more photos of Pedro the Lion performing at Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo House of Music on July 1, 2023. All photos courtesy of and copyright Mark Caicedo.