David Bazan was worried he'd be marginalized. At least that's what he told me over the phone a few weeks ago, discussing public reaction to his latest album, Curse Your Branches

"Honestly, what I actually thought was that the record was going to be so marginal, because anyone who cares so much about these topics this much, I thought, would be offended by it, and anyone who didn't care about it, or believe it would just say, 'Why is this guy obsessed with this stuff so much?'"

Judging from the packed crowd last night at Tempe's Sail Inn, Bazan's words and songs haven't had that effect. At all. The former Pedro the Lion frontman held the crowd rapt in attention Wednesday night, suggesting the tunes have resonated with listeners in ways that would have surprised their creator.

David Bazan at The Sail Inn

"It's a pleasure to be in Phoenix. My hometown. Well, my old hometown. My hometown is somewhere else," Bazan joked. The singer, who was raised here before departing for the Pacific Northwest said, smiling a wide grin that belied the heavy theological, moral and familial content of his songs.

I last saw Bazan in late summer at Solar Culture in Tucson, where he lead a five-piece band.  Last night saw him fronting a four-piece combo, cranking out a looser, leaner set to a crowd of packed fans at Sail Inn, stripping away much of that other set's ornate decoration in favor of Rust Never Sleeps' raw pop.

Initially I had my doubts that Bazan's sound would mesh with the Sail Inn's hippie-dippy vibe, but I warmed up to the venue. The unique qualities of the place suited a show of this size, with plenty of standing room, lots of space outside, a fully stocked bar, and best of all, a fantastic sound system, with Bazan's vocals coming across distinct and clear. I'm guessing it won't be long before Stateside and other promoters start leaning heavily on the venue to host shows like this.

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Bazan and band strayed from Curse Your Branches territory a few times.  Covering Bob Dylan's "The Man In Me," Bazan channeled the power of The Dude, with easy going goodwill practically blasting out of the amplifiers. Old Pedro the Lion standards like "Bad Diary Days" and "When They Really Get to Know You They' Will Run" caused some confused looks on the faces of more recent fans, but "Magazine" and "Penetration," both from 2002's Control caused massive reaction- the swaggering drums and Fugazi-style over-driven guitars contrasted nicely with the quieter moments of the set.

Bazan, known for question and answer sessions at his show, didn't field too many questions last night. When asked how to make a "Brown Bitch," a drink he featured on his website years ago, he sheepishly offered up the recipe: Smirnoff Ice and Whiskey, but warned that it "didn't taste too good, and worked way too fast."

But despite any jokes, the core of Bazan's set remained deeply introspective. Closer "In Stitches" hushed the room, as Bazan sang of his daughter's growing questions about God, about Job's confrontation with the Almighty, and about Bazan's lingering questions about faith.

"The crew have killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice," he sang, the song's chorus giving way to a shredded refrain and, then, a hymnal solemnity at the song's end.

And, to think, he was worried we wouldn't relate.

Critics Notebook:

Last Night: David Bazan & Headlights at Sail Inn.

Better Than: Judging from the plethora of jam band posters plastered on the wall, the show was better than most nights at the Sail Inn, though the venue's general excellence will probably continue to attract more shows of this caliber in the future. 

Personal Bias: Extensive. I've been listening to David Bazan since high school.  Hell, I even wrote a paper on the song "Magazine" in college. I've seen Bazan in various incarnations, Pedro the Lion, Headphones, and solo, and even own rare "Helicopter" 7-inch'. 

Random Detail: Dave's grandma was in attendance, beaming with pride as fans came up to introduce themselves and offer Bazan shots. 

Further Listening: I'd go with I Break Chairs, the Damien Jurado record that Bazan produced. 

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