When I went to purchase my concert ticket from a local Christian bookstore earlier in the week only to discover that I was the first one to buy a ticket there, I may have guessed that the attendance for the show would be low. But like so many of my generation, I was not going to the show so much to share it as to savor it. Most of the music represented on stage was very personal to me in the development of my faith, my sense of good art, and who I was as a person: songs that shaped my attitude about life or gave it voice, anthems expressing simple truths, riffs and rhythms that make my heart beat faster and and melodies that still live within me. This music is part of who I was and somehow who I am still, though sometimes buried under the barnacles of time.
When I got to the venue–Crossroads Church in Corona, CA–at 5:30 p.m., half an hour early, I expected to quickly peruse the merchandise tables before heading inside to find a good seat. But after I checked out the tables, I looked for an open door but none was to be found. That’s when I realized that all the people mulling around the lobby area were really all the people who were there! When 6 p.m. came around, the doors remained closed. I assume that whoever was running the show wanted to delay it a bit to give any latecomers a chance to get there so that there would be a decent audience for the first act.
In August of 2005, I had attended the Broken Records Reunion Show in Orange County, organized and promoted by Take 2 Productions and featuring 411, Altar Boys, Crumbacher, The Choir and Undercover. It was highly anticipated and well attended. These pioneers of Christian rock music were coming together some 20 years after the height of their popularity. And people did not want to miss this rare, possibly once-in-a-lifetime, reunion of some of the best-loved artists from their past.
Somehow few people got the memo about the January 8, 2011 concert in the Inland Empire! It may have been the timing of the concert, right after the holidays. I know of at least one woman who travelled from Texas to be at the show. But many people, having made a trek to visit family over the Christmas season, may not have had the luxury of taking another trip to Southern California to see their favorite bands. It may just be that, with the economy being what it is, fewer people were able to spend the extra $20-$100 for a concert ticket. It may be, as a friend of mine remarked after the show, that with every five years, the number of people for whom this music is an important part of their lives will tend to dwindle more and more. If there is another show of this kind in the future it may be necessary to book a smaller venue. It seems that this reunion show was a living illustration of the title of a book birthed out of the previous reunion show that was being sold this time in the lobby: First and Forgotten.
Despite the disappointing turnout, for those of us who were there, any disappointment we felt was because we wish that more people could have experienced the power, poignancy, and even playfulness of the performances that night. The Choir, Mike Roe, The Lifters, Crumbacher and Undercover, and all the special guests will not soon be forgotten by us.
THE CHOIR was the first band to take the stage, stripped down to Derri Daugherty singing and playing acoustic guitar and Steve Hindalong on percussion, harmonica and vocal harmonies. Their set included “Clouds,” “15 Doors,” “Sentimental Song,” “Midnight Sun,” “Leprechaun,” and “Hey Gene.” Daugherty’s voice was smooth, accompanied by the clean, delay-enhanced resonance of his guitar (I must find out what gear he uses) and the ecclectic sounds of Hindalong’s personal rhythm section. I had fun watching Hindalong feel the beat and hit all the accents while Daugherty opted for simplicity in his strumming, allowing the melodic beauty of his vocals to take the spotlight. “Sentimental Song” was particularly captivating. The two musicians had a full sound and played a dynamic set (thanks in part to sound expertise of Van Metschke).
Next up, MIKE ROE came out on stage looking a bit Orbison-esque with Hindalong once again taking on percussion duties. Another great vocalist, Roe also showed off the subtle artistry of melodic picking. The big surprise for me was “The Treasure In You,” written by Roe for his daughter when she was first born. I did not expect to tear up, but being the proud father of a precious 9-month-old boy I could not help it. The other highlight for me was “The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes and the Pride of Life” played basically as it was recorded on The Lost Dogs’ Mutt. Besides owning two 77’s CDs I mainly know Roe through his music with the Lost Dogs, and I love what he does there. But tonight he really won me over as an artist in his own right.
Next, THE LIFTERS brought their brand of country-tinged rockabilly with a bit of a bluesy flair. I don’t particularly recall The Lifters from my teenage years listening to Reality Rock. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen them live. Their set was made memorable by the antics of their bass player who broke his upright bass in the first or second song, had to play an ordinary electric bass for the rest of the set until someone miraculously showed up with a spare upright, which he used during the last song. The highlight for this band was the lead guitarist who played a number of tasteful leads on electric and steel guitars.
After a bit of an intermission the audience was treated to a surprise: Michael Pritzl (The Violet Burning) introduced a quartet: Ojo Taylor (Undercover) on keyboard, Steve Hindalong (The Choir) on percussion, Mike Roe (77s) and Riki Michele (Adam Again) on vocals together. They all played “Dig” in tribute to the late Gene Eugene.CRUMBACHER came out in full force as they took the stage with “Thunder Beach,” using the stage lighting to match their big sound and Stephen Crumbacher’s energetic stage presence, which was balanced out by Chris Duke’s seeming lack of emotion. The band performed songs from each of their releases, the highlight being “Tourist Trap” from Escape From the Fallen Planet, which has just been remastered and rereleased as a 25th anniversary edition. Crumbacher and Dawn Wisner-Johnson even did a medley of their ballads in near tongue-in-cheek fashion, possibly reacting to the iTunes reviews of their music. Again I was surprised by the power of a lyric from “Once More”: “like a tune that’s never fading play through me again once more . . . by your hand.” The band concluded with “Life of the Party.”
Wisner-Johnson came out soon after to highlight the fact that the night’s concert was supposed to be a benefit for Lifequest’s Romanian Revolution. But, considering the turnout, it did not look like there would be much money going to that cause. So she urged people to check them out and support their mission. Then she introduced Steve Hindalong once again who came out, this time with an acoustic guitar, and sang “God of Wonders” (the song he co-wrote with bandmate Marc Byrd) accompanied by Riki Michele on vocals.
The hour was getting late but truly the best was still to come. Onto the stage stepped John Smeby of Reality Rock whose esteem for the final act, the relevance of their music which is changing lives even today, led him to conclude they need no introduction. So he simply walked off the stage as synth music began to play and a white back lighting reveal the silhouettes of the members of UNDERCOVER walking out into the audience and passing out long-stemmed roses. The rest, I must admit is a bit of a blur, not because it was late and I was fading; quite the opposite. There was so much to take in that I just had to sit there and absorb the experience. What struck me most, from the first beat of the drum was the musicianship of every member of the band! Sim Wilson (lead vocal) commanded the stage with piercing and powerful vocals. Michele once again cameoed on backing vocals. Ojo Taylor (keys) handled himself like a poised octopus, playing synth parts with his right hand and bass on his left for most of the set. On some of the songs, guest musician, Ric Alba, covered the bass parts. Alba also was on guitar duty so that, unlike the last reunion concert where Gym Nicholson (guitar) had to choose which guitar part to play, this time all the guitar parts were covered, allowing Nicholson to play the tasty leads as Alba handled the rhythm, thus creating a fuller, more complex sound. Gary Olson (drums) could not have played with any more precision and punch! The way he can change tempo in the middle of a song is an absolute musical miracle! Undercover simply rocked! They played every song any fan would want and they did it as true professionals, proving once again that their music stands the test of time. They ended, of course, with the chant “raise your hands, it’s time to fly, people.” Taylor traded stations with Alba so he could man the bass as Alba danced around at the keyboard.
At one solemn moment before bringing their set to a close, Taylor offered a word of advice: “Don’t give up.” To those thinking of giving up, don’t. To those for whom giving up is not an option, do not become complacent in your pursuits. His exhortation was simple and short. Yet, in the context of a 25 year reunion concert, very profound. Some of the artists on the stage that night have had to reinvent themselves numerous times over the years as songwriters, musicians, producers, promoters and the like just to remain viable in the music industry. But most of the artists on that stage have had an even harder transition to make, from people creating music in the spotlight to professionals earning a living in obscurity, possibly no longer with any real creative outlet. Each person on that stage has had to make the choice to grow up rather than give up. As evidenced on stage that night, none of them has given up who they are in the process.