Last weekend, July 27, marked the second installation of the CATHEDRALS: Tacoma concert series, presented by the Broadway Center for Performing Arts. Artists Kevin Sur, Pretty Broken Things and David Bazan performed mostly acoustic sets backed by beautiful accompaniment from the Passenger String Quartet.
The light of early evening summer sun shone through the stained glass windows of the Immanuel Presbyterian Church as we took our seats for the sold out show.
CATHEDRALS so far succeeds in unifying a diverse Tacoma community, regardless of spiritual differences or background, while providing a megaphone for the sounds of local creative culture.
“It feels like a really good night – Tacoma just being itself,” said Aaron Stevens, programming manager for the Broadway Center, summarizing the evening nicely.
The Passenger String Quartet opened the show with “Vermillion,” an original composition from leader Andrew Joslyn. That piece was followed by Kevin Sur, of Indian Valley Line. Sur’s gravelly voice draws listeners in, and his songs invoke a lilting “old timey” atmosphere. Sur and the quartet serenaded each other, taking turns holding notes in call and response. Playing with the Passenger String Quartet “alters your perspective, how you view your own songs,” Sur said.
Following Sur’s set, the quartet performed another original composition, “The Berlin Patient.” The title was inspired by the story of an AIDS patient potentially cured by a successful bone marrow transplant procedure. The music wordlessly told a compelling story.
The evening as a whole seemed to be about storytelling. All those who performed, Sur and Bazan in particular, shared intimate glimpses into their life through their craft. Sur thanked the audience for being there to listen. “Thank you for wanting to be out of your house to experience this and share it with us,” he said.
Next, Pretty Broken Things filled the church with epic musical peaks and sing-song valleys. The magic of this band comes from their unique group dynamic. Lead singer Katie Costello commented on her good fortune in acquiring like-minded bandmates, joking she was glad she could “sucker some people into being my back-up.”
Though Costello’s full vocals might be the the defining factor in each song, the group attained an ecstatic pitch when joining in with harmonizing violin, back-up vocals, guitar-thumping, hand-clapping, and foot-stomping rhythms.
The headliner of the evening was David Bazan, long formerly of Pedro the Lion. His narrative lyrics are raw, often sharing wearying, exposed and painful experiences. He referred to his songs as “offensive bummers” at one point. In the midst of said “bummers,” he sprinkled in humor and a down-to-earth approachability that dissolved the angst of his blunt words.
During Bazan’s set he carried on his tradition of asking the audience if they had any questions.
The responding inquiries were initially lighthearted: ”Have you ever wanted to have dreadlocks?” Bazan’s reply: “Back in high school, but it takes too much non-work work. I’d eat the honey.”
More significant questions followed, even ones regarding life lessons to pass on to children. Bazan responded with simple honesty. “Empathy and self-discipline”, he named as key traits he’d hope to impress upon kids. “And they’d have to be cool,” he said, “Not hip cool, just not jerks.”
There was even discussion of his stance on religion, and how it inspires his creativity – a pregnant topic, given Bazan’s background and the location of the show. He spoke of his past work as “very naïve expressions of a former viewpoint.”
Bazan’s performance included highlights from his days with Pedro the Lion and from his solo work. He also worked in the oft-covered Leonard Cohen tune “Hallelujah,” saying that this song wasn’t about what many believed it to be, “unless God is a girl and also doesn’t exist – which is possible.”
Bazan finished his set with the title track of his most recent LP, “Strange Negotiations,” backed by the Quartet. This performance highlighted the union of Andrew Joslyn’s compositions and Bazan’s songwriting. Throughout the show, the Quartet complemented the contemporary compositions with classical elements, but this harmony was most clear during Bazan’s set.
This second CATHEDRALS: Tacoma show begins to establish the series as a reliably compelling and unique experience for those seeking quality live music in Tacoma. The third show in the series will be Friday, November 16, with a roster of artists yet to be announced (though it’s rumored to include Drew Grow). You can purchase your tickets now for a mere $16.