Mellow gold

KCSC brought out the indie heavyweights for its first Music Explosion

ROAR ON THE FLOOR <br>David Bazan of Pedro the Lion.

David Bazan of Pedro the Lion.

Photo By Tom Angel

Pedro the Lion, John Vanderslice, Ester Drang and Bear Hunter
BMU Auditorium, Sun., Feb. 29

Even on our small plot of land, KCSC, Chico State’s student-run, Internet-only radio station, leaves a tiny (though meaningful) footprint. While its listenership may never reach the numbers of other stations in the area, a poll taken at most local shows would probably find that half of the members of both the audience and the bands playing were current or former volunteers at the station.

This night marked KCSC’s first-annual Music Explosion, an attempt to raise awareness of—and money for—the low-profile station. Locals Bear Hunter began the night with a short but satisfying set of epic and tuneful rock. KCSC alum Spencer Teilmann is progressively growing into an interesting and likeable front man, and the band may just be the most marketable of Chico’s many acts. It ended its set with a brilliantly arranged song featuring prerecorded synth parts, a move that proved to be amazingly prescient as the night moved on.

Despite being a three-piece, Ester Drang produced a huge sound. Live, it employs a number of clever gadgets as well as prerecorded pieces of music to flesh out its sound, which could be called “spacey” except that it lacks space rock’s requisite journeys into Nowheresville.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the set was Ester Drang’s use of visuals: a screen behind the band flashed images that followed—exactly—the tempo and dynamics of the swelling songs. It was enthralling—the precision made the stock arty college movies (a blinking eye, a rainy bridge, a phonograph) compelling and new.

S.F.'s John Vanderslice is well known in indie circles as a producer and engineer but has recently garnered rave reviews for his new release Cellar Door. As he began, it was clear that a sizable portion of the audience was there to see him.

His set of power pop, drawing as much from the obscure wells of Thin Lizzy and Styx as that of such habitually tapped sources as Elvis Costello, didn’t disappoint. His band sounded great, forceful but never plodding and willing to explore the tonal ranges of the individual instruments. Like its predecessors, its use of piped-in chunks of sound (in this case trumpets) was amazingly seamless and appropriate.

In contrast to the many neat gizmos and disembodied sounds employed by the previous three bands, Pedro the Lion’s set-up—guitar, bass, and a drum set—seemed downright ascetic. Pedro the Lion has always focused on the songs over the sounds.

The world of Pedro’s David Bazan is inhabited by good people in bad situations and bad people in good ones, and he sings with the plain, unaffected voice of a court reporter taking it all in. His band played new pieces and old, including Bazan’s masterpiece of Christian philosophy, “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.”

Taking questions from the audience between songs, Bazan discussed the year he spent in Paradise, called the band’s forthcoming release "sexist" and pointed out that his lyrics often reveal what a jerk he really is. It is this unpretentious truthfulness that makes Bazan one of rock’s most appealing voices.