For starters, the above title is sort of false advertising. I’ll get that out there right away. I was kind of hoping to hear that song on Saturday at Irving Plaza and I didn’t. But seeing as how the whole day was pretty glorious, I can’t complain. So in that way, it’s really not false advertising. The day started out pretty normally. I did normal Saturday things, and then headed out into the disgusting snow which was not so glorious. Yes you read that right. Snow. In October. This, like, never happens. So I headed into the city to be geeky for an hour or so at the PhotoPlus Expo, and then to meet up with my friends Liz and Jason for the concert. And Chipotle too… I LOVE Chipotle. A little too much.
I’m not the type of concert-goer who does all the research beforehand, looking up setlists and trying to figure out what’s been played at every show this tour, and what of the variables is “due”. I know people like that. They kind of annoy me at concerts. So going in, I knew I was going to see David Crowder Band (duh!) but aside from that I didn’t even know who was opening for them. I think maybe I’d seen Chris August’s name on the ticket, but I didn’t even remember that. So I was basically going in knowing nothing. Which is how I like it.
Blow-by-blows of concerts are boring (First up was so and so and he played this, and then they played this and that and a really good cover of the other thing), so I’m going to avoid boring things like setlists and recounting everything that happened during the concert. I’m sure you’ll appreciate it, because unchecked, I could go on and on about these things, and it’ll make your eyes bleed.
First up was… HAHA I won’t do that to you. But first up was John Mark McMillan, the guy who wrote “How He Loves”, which Crowder made famous. So I kind of knew we’d be hearing that song eventually that night. I was picturing a duet. That happened sort of, but way later. Suffice it to say I’ve heard the original of “How He Loves” and JMM pretty much sounded like that. I absolutely loved the fact that JMM was already on stage a mere half an hour or so after the doors opened. No standing around and slow clapping. Probably because there was so much to fit into a limited time.
Chris August made his first (hilarious) appearance after JMM. He sang songs. He made us laugh. He talked about how Crowder let him have only his guitar and one light on stage. He was super awesome. I would go see CA any time he came back to NYC just for the comedy. The music was great too. Not really music I’d normally have chosen, but he’s definitely growing on me.
Here’s the thing about Christian music. It gets a bad rep because it doesn’t have to be good. As Cartman from South Park put it, “Think about it! It’s the easiest crappiest music in the world, right? If we just play songs about how much we love Jesus, all the Christians will buy our crap!” And that is basically the truth. Growing up, most of my friends’ parents would let them listen to only Christian music and it could be crap, but people would buy it because they’d prefer the happy clappy cheese over having to listen to Family Radio, which was nothing but hymns sung slowly. What 15 year old wants to spend their hard earned allowance on that?? No, we chose the lesser of the evils, which was the Christian cheese, because at least it had a beat. But this did nothing to make the quality any better. In fact, it rewarded the mediocrity.
The quality definitely has gone up in the last few years though. As more musicians who happen to be Christian make more music that people outside of our little community will listen to, it raises the quality of the music. The cheese has to compete with people like Sufjan Stevens, who does not hide his faith, but who is more honest than most about his struggles. Check out the lyrics to “Casimir Pulaski Day” if you want a good example. He gets a little mad at God. Things are not all roses. He makes it plain that you can be mad at God and admit it and still be a Christian. We all do it.
Things are not always good, and happy and cheesy, and as artists inside the world of Christian music feel a little more freedom to admit this, the music becomes more honest. The best music, in my opinion, is not born out of happiness but out of suffering. JMM and Chris August were good examples of this on Saturday.
Add to the honesty the creative genius and inventiveness of people like David Crowder and Michael Gungor, who are somehow able to turn praise music, which has historically been the worst kind of cheese, into something great, and you have an upgrade in quality across the Christian music industry.
That said, Christian music has a tendency to get boring, and in the wrong hands it’s still pretty crappy. I used to compare it to vanilla ice cream. Yeah it’s ice cream, which is good in any flavor, and some people do love vanilla ice cream. I prefer panda paws though, with lots of stuff going on in it.
I have changed my analogy lately though. Christian music is like TJ Maxx. Sure, there’s great finds, but you have to wade through a lot of horrific things to find the gems. (And as an added bonus, it’s usually less expensive…. TJ Maxx clothes, and Christian concerts.)
And after that whole tangent, I’ll get back to this — Saturday night’s concert felt like coming home with a shopping bag full of good TJ Maxx finds. After Chris August’s first appearance, a group of people pushed closer to the front, as happens in standing room only concerts, and kind of camped out by me, Liz and Jason. The guy’s name was Dan I think, but I don’t remember his two female companions’ names. Dan was super funny, and we had a couple laughs waiting for the next band, Gungor, to take the stage. We (well mostly Liz) had great banter with him the rest of the night.
All I can say about Gungor is they are super talented. They, like Chris August, left most of their band back at home and did an acoustic set with a guitar, cello, and whatever instrument Lisa Gungor felt like playing in a particular song. She played some accordion thing and a glockenspiel among others. I can’t say enough about their talent. The fact that they kept mentioning their “musical collective” makes me think they have a huge band, something like a Christian version of Arcade Fire. They’re touring in the spring — I’d love to check that out.
So after another appearance from Chris August, David Crowder Band came on, and what can I say about that? They were also super talented, and funny, and were very tight in their performance. They were basically the best parts of all three previous acts.
I think the best part was David Crowder’s ability to tell stories like an old Southern grandpa. He’s not much older than me, but he sounded older than his years. Maybe because I’m a New Yorker who’s had limited exposure to the South, I really enjoyed the grandfatherly rambling, which was also just really funny.
Twice he interrupted his songs to tell stories or to go on tangents, but I really didn’t mind it. Once he interrupted a song to say that he was not able to get around the stage very quickly because he was cold and wearing a bunch of shirts.
He also said New Yorkers are tougher than Texans. Which I took as a compliment coming from a Texan.
The other highlight of the Crowder band’s set was when they played a couple bluegrass songs and we had a singalong. I don’t normally listen to bluegrass, but it was fun to sing. I might have to change my opinion on it. Or at the very least give it another listen.
After the bluegrass and before the encore, at the tail end of the set I got my Crowder McMillan duet. It was in some ways as awesome as I’d imagined it and in other ways even better, since Gungor and Chris August also joined in.
The song was written in mourning and as I said before, good music comes from tragedy and sadness. “How He Loves” is one of those powerfully tragic songs, with words of hopefulness, but some frustration as well, just below. It was one of those moments that are beautiful to be part of. Every concert has one, and it’s worth the money you spend and the standing for hours and the walking in October snow……
All told it was everything a concert should be. We laughed, we cried, we worshiped, we sang at the tops of our lungs. If I could, I would spend every Saturday night just like that.