Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
02/22/2019

[Photo: bballchico/joel guevara]

The biggest sign of success for any band that reunites for longer than just a nostalgia tour is that they can keep playing shows and still get people to show up. The reunited Pedro the Lion have now played four shows in Portland in just three years, each time bringing a little more to the table, starting with a small, rapturous two-night stint at Mississippi Studios (the shows which announced their return), which led to a 2018 appearance at Revolution Hall. Their return to the venue comes hot on the heels of Phoenix and as that album—reportedly the first of six new Pedro albums—is one of the best albums of 2019 so far, it was hard not to feel the excitement for this show.

When last I saw Pedro the Lion, at one of their rust-shaking Mississippi Studios shows, the band was joined by a tasteful light show, one that felt excellent, but far too big for the space. The same light array appeared at Revolution Hall, and couldn’t have fit more perfectly; it was dazzling, but never overblown. Behind the band played tracking shots of Phoenix itself: starting as simple van-shot footage of the streets and neighborhoods, over time it morphed into warped representations of the city, with the video manipulated and the colors skewed. It took us through neighborhoods, suburban sprawl, construction and dark back roads. As the show progressed, the image distortion became more ever-present, with only short breaks in the blur to remind you of what it actually looks like. Phoenix uses its sense of place remarkably well, and Bazan’s decision to actually give you so many images—albeit warped ones—of the titular city made the evening feel more substantial than your average show.

As one might expect, the set leaned heaviest on Phoenix, the band playing the majority of the record throughout the 90-minute show. These songs sound fantastic live, somehow breathing even more life into an already deeply-satisfying collection of songs. Outside of this, we were treated to a tastefully-curated collection of older songs, both from Pedro and Bazan solo albums, including Control classic “Penetration” and the excellent “Hard to Be” from Curse Your Branches. A couple of the band’s most beloved songs—looking at you, “Indian Summer”—were absent, a move that felt remarkably ballsy, but was also surprisingly gratifying in its willingness to not give the audience exactly what it wants.

Bazan stayed tight-lipped through most of the show, holding his sermon-like chatter for the end. When he did talk, though, it was full of instantly quotable phrases. “Use the internet like it could be taken away from you,” he said at one point, after a brief ramble about the usefulness of the internet, before asserting that there’s no way the freedom we have with the web is sustainable: “The bed we have made for ourselves is prickly, y’all.” At the end of the show, after playing Phoenix (and set) closer “Leaving the Valley,” he launched into a brief rant about how “encores are bullshit” (which is true), before taking a few questions from the audience. These questions, unfortunately, felt like the shouting of end-of-the-show drunks (two questions pertained to whether or not Bazan knew certain people), leaving him space to give a long-form speech about god, positivity, and self-love: “If there’s a god, you find it through this,” he said, pointing at his chest.

As I watched the suburbs of Phoenix roll past the band, I found myself thinking about how excited I am for the next album, when he performs the same trick for another city, and another after that. It should not be as compelling to watch manipulated visions of suburbia while a band sings songs about it, but Bazan’s deft ability to self-examine makes the whole concept feel like an experience. Other bands may not be able to pull off the same tricks, but any reuniting band should take note, because this feels like a perfect blueprint for how to do it successfully.

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