“Tonight, I’d like to introduce you to Earlilion,” explains Earlimart frontman Aaron Espinoza. “My two bandmates were in an accident in Orlando. They’re OK, but decided to stay behind. I just flew in a few hours ago and these guys learned my songs on their drive up.” Espinoza slings his guitar over his shoulder, and tunes up as Pedro the Lion takes its place onstage as his backing band. Playing a 45-minute set almost entirely from the new Treble & Tremble, each song begins with a short music lesson from Espinoza to his new bandmates, “OK, this is the one that starts like this…” Earlilion’s infectious electricity immediately matches Espinoza’s exquisitely consistent, quietly dark, and strangely uplifting vocals.
A rapid set rearrangement later, Pedro the Lion takes its proper place, and—without so much as a word form the typically loquacious Dave Bazan—promptly pounds into It’s Hard to Find a Friend’s “Of Minor Prophets and Their Prostitute Wives.” Known for their pessimistic but dead-on evaluations of the suburbs, religion, relationships and corporate soul-stealing, each song blows up tenfold in concert. Recordings like Control’s “Penetration,” mellow on the album, reveal themselves fully in all Bazan’s sardonic, damn-the-truth-hurts, loud-rocking glory (“If it isn’t making dollars / Then it isn’t making sense / If you aren’t moving units / Then you’re not worth the expense”).
Four songs later, Bazan announces it’s time for the Q&A part of the show. Dozens of hands shoot up; the first person asks, “If you could be anyone famous past or present, who would you be?” Bazan, chuckling, says, “Well...uh, Jennifer Aniston because you’d get to look at that in the mirror everyday. No, seriously, Martin Luther King, Jr., minus the plagiarism, then Jesus.” Three more random questions are asked that Bazan answers sincerely and quickly while his bandmates look on, taking a swig or two of beer before merging into a precise, charged set picked mostly from their eight-month-old record, Achilles Heel. Another set break and Q&A session pass, before an audience member mirthlessly yells out, “Stop talking!” Bazan, laughing and sympathetic replies, “Oh, maybe you don’t know our band—this is what we do.” Cheered on by the crowd, Bazan answers more questions with replies ranging from Flannery O’Connor, to a short argument that The White Stripes are not the best band since Nirvana.
Seven songs later, including a brilliant cover of Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues,” it’s the end of the show. The band exits, the lights come up. No time to stomp or cheer them out for an encore. The beginning of a winter storm awaits outside, and as a friend and I rush our warm bodies to my freezing car, I can’t shake the concert’s intensity from my head, or how jarred I was from the edgy lyrics. I start my car, turn off the blaring radio and let the ringing in my ears serenade us all the slippery way home.