Even though John Vanderslice's signature album ("The Life and Death of an American Fourtracker") proudly espouses homemade, lo-fi recording, he's really a hi-fi freak. There was proof of this Thursday night when the San Francisco singer/guitarist and his band opened for Pedro the Lion at the Black Cat, a stellar performance whose heart was with the do-it-yourself home recordists of the world, but whose sound was lush and dynamic.
Like Vanderslice's latest album, "Cellar Door," the set took basic materials of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums and balanced them masterfully with Vanderslice's distinctive, keening voice. Songs such as "Underneath the Leaves" and "White Plains" were simple on the surface, but attention to detail -- a rippling keyboard figure on the former, a galloping drum pattern on the latter -- elevated the lyrical narratives into something special. And if the less successful songs from "Cellar Door" made the set slightly uneven, its high points ("The Mansion," "Up Above the Sea") were near-perfect transfers of great songs to a live setting.
The headliner, a band whose focus is singer/songwriter David Bazan, recently released "Achilles Heel," its most restrained, stripped-down album. Bazan had only a bassist and drummer backing up his strummed electric guitar Thursday, continuing to float in the record's minimalist stream. In a solid set that covered much of the new album and featured the odd curveball (Randy Newman's "Political Science," for example), Pedro seemed content to purr rather than roar, which suited excellent compositions such as "Foregone Conclusions" just fine.
-- Patrick Foster