Pedro the Lion Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, August 8

Pedro the Lion Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, August 8
Photo: Chris Gee
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Often, band reunions aren't fully satisfying or as good as the peak of their popularity — original members leave, songs sound forced and it can feel like a money grab. This is absolutely not the case with Pedro the Lion. Less a "reunion" and more a reinstatement of David Bazan's former project name, Pedro the Lion began with Bazan writing and playing all of the instruments himself — exploring, questioning and criticizing his religious upbringing with first-person anecdotes about morality and complex relationships.
 
Playing bass, with Erik Walters on guitar and Sean Lane on drums, Bazan brought the first Pedro the Lion tour since 2005 to Toronto's Lee's Palace and wasted no time digging deep into Pedro the Lion's most beloved songs. Opening with a chugging version of "Slow and Steady Wins the Race," from 2000's Winners Never Quit, with a politically-charged modified lyric ("I'll receive a mansion right next to Steve Bannon"), and immediately launching into the surging "Indian Summer" from 2002's Control, Bazan and his band got right into it without delay.
 
After deciding to retire the Pedro the Lion name in 2006, Bazan has since kept busy with multiple solo albums and other projects and embarking on several tours, including living room sets and full band shows (with a rotating cast) as the David Bazan Band. This time, fully embracing the high level of nostalgia for fan favourites seems to have lit a fire beneath Bazan to use his weathered and wise voice to play music in a rock band again.
 
The up-tempo, guitar-driven distortion on songs like "When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run," from their 1998 debut album It's Hard To Find A Friend, and the capitalist beat-down "Penetration," were particularly cathartic as the audience mouthed along to every word like the lyrics have been engrained in their minds for the past 20 years. Later, the ghostly, heavy-handed drumming on "Magazine" was played menacingly by Lane, with Bazan's aching baritone stretched out to a scarred melodic openness.
 
Despite many Pedro the Lion songs having religious connotations and Bazan examining his faith, they hold up as universal ballads for the analysis of confusing or even abusive relationships and the struggle to find a voice. After Bazan's extended banter about fighting toxic masculinity —which he admitted contributing to — and it being a "blind spot for white dudes" for far too long, the three-piece followed it up with the most powerful stretch of the show of relevant songs within the Pedro the Lion discography. The dual, lumbering crunch of bass and guitar in "Second Best" flowing into a swift detonation of Bazan's snarl in of "A Mind Of Her Own" told a loose narrative about violence against a woman who ultimately defeats her abuser in the downbeat, melancholy "Priests and Paramedics." The band elegantly finished off the main part of the set with the aptly titled "Trouble With Boys" from Bazan's solo album Blanco.
 
Bazan has promised a new Pedro the Lion album, entitled Phoenix, which is due for a release early next year, and the band played a twangy new song called "Quietest Friend" from it to start their encore. Rounding out the show with slow-burner "Strange Negotiations," from Bazan's 2011 solo album of the same name, and fan favourite "Big Trucks," from It's Hard To Find A Friend, it's remarkably apparent how consistent Bazan's output has been for the past two decades under different stage names and several stylistic changes.
 
For many long-time fans, Pedro the Lion remain one of those bands who have defined the formative years for introverts and religious outcasts. Watching Bazan perform with such modesty and a renewed love for the inspired, emotive tonality that Pedro the Lion do so well was heartwarming.
 
Bazan stated early in the set, "These are a bunch of songs I wrote in my 20s. And I am now in my 40s." With a new sense of purpose for the next chapter of Pedro the Lion, it is encouraging to see Bazan excited to speak his mind and use his observational wisdom with the band once again.