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Pedro the Lion at SXSW: Only the strong survive to feel their feels

Eric Webb
Pedro the Lion perform at Mohawk during South by Southwest on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. [ERIC WEBB/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

It’s hard to keep the oil burning past midnight sometimes — yes, even if you’ve suspended your normal physical limitations for South by Southwest. Seattle indie-rock favorites Pedro the Lion, led by David Bazan, didn’t have that kind of problem Wednesday at Mohawk. They powered through the capstone performance at the Polyvinyl showcase into the small hours, with plenty of setlist representation for their pleasingly emotional new album, “Phoenix.”

Bazan — also in town for the world premiere of “Strange Negotiations,” a documentary about his public loss of Christian faith — growled his achy growl, singing words that super-fans knew by heart. He often sounded plaintive, but mostly, Bazan’s phrasing felt like a man trying to find understanding from his audience, or consensus of feeling. Fitting, for a dude who used to literally play to the heavens and then spent a decade wrestling with the divine in his solo music. From “Clean Up,” a standout new track with a chorus that revved up a few late-night souls: “ I tried eternity and a couple of other drugs/Such a romantic place to hide from taking my lumps.” Meanwhile, bendy emo guitars threaded through one’s tear ducts.

The scattered reaches of the outdoor audience found it a little harder to hang on as the minutes marched past. After veteran pop-punks the Get Up Kids packed in a good-sized crowd for the preceding set, the balcony ranks thinned out by Pedro the Lion’s midpoint. A dedicated core on the floor remained for feelings and beards.

» MORE: SXSW Music Festival 2019: Our critics’ picks