Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Portable sounds to lift me up.

On Saturday, I took my two sisters to a Christian rock show. I'd taken the older one before, but never both, so it was a new experience for all of us.

Didn't start out well, though. We were running late, which required skillful and speedy driving. LittleSis gasped, "Mom's wrong--you don't drive like a grandma." She should see me on I-45 and I-35, on the trek from Houston to OKC, as I break land-speed records.

The concert was at the Berry Center, the brand-new sports uber-complex that was built for all the high schools in the district to share. We're talking top-quality football stadium and basketball arena. Very nice.

We took our seats at the top of one of the lower level sections, pretty close to the stage. The opening band, Thousand Foot Krutch, had already started playing. I used to be really into this band (and would gladly throw up the rawkfist), but I haven't really listened to them lately. They played a pretty good set, and the crowd was pretty into it. We only heard four of their songs, but we didn't get there terribly late, so I'm guessing it was the typical 6-7 song "opening act" set. I'm probably going to check out their new album. Good stuff.

You know, I've always wondered what goes through the mind of a musician when he used to be more of a headliner (or, at the very least, a second-bill act like TFK), and you find yourself warming up the crowd as the opener. Is it one of those character moments where the humble and wise man says, "It's a blessing to even get to perform," while the foolish man says, "I used to be awesome, what the crap happened?" My dad recently saw Blues Traveller playing a corporate retreat on one of his work trips. A band that used to be on the top-ten charts, playing for a bunch of management dudes at a crappy conference center in Orlando. Do you think John Popper has those moments where he is confronted by the unmistakable arc his career has taken? When you find yourself on the backside of your popularity peak, how do you cope?

No time for more contemplation, though: the next band takes the stage. The three-sister band, Barlow Girl.

Now I have to confess--I wasn't particularly jazzed about seeing this band. I was in it for the headliner; but the sisters like Barlow Girl, so I was willing to put up with it. The last time this happened was when I sat through a ZoeGirl set at the beginning of a Newsboys concert. But seriously? Those Barlow girls rocked the house. Granted, I have a predisposed weakness for rock-chicks. But those girls can play up a storm. No pop in their rock, in other words.

And what I liked best about them is that, between songs, they were making strong statements to the crowd about the importance of living with integrity, not sacrificing your principles, and choosing a life of purity and modesty. I felt myself switching to "dad mode" a little, as I was hearing and cheering these words for the sake of my dear sisters. I pray they took those truths to heart. It's a dangerous and sick world. They need to be strong and prepared to face it and make their stand.

But yeah, a great set from Barlow Girl.

Finally, the headliner: Toby Mac.

I've seen TobyMac perform in concert, with DC Talk and then solo, probably four times, but this was the best of them all. I had to keep reminding myself that the man is 43, because he had more energy and style than performers half his age. If you're not familiar with his music, think of a clean Justin Timberlake, but with more funk and soul. He and his "Diverse City Band" put on a phenomenal show.

The cool part about this is that you don't have to take my word on it forever. The two concerts here in Houston were filmed for a live DVD that will be released in the future. So you'll get to see the show I saw. (And if I'm somehow seen in a frame or two of the DVD, you'll be the first to know.)

I can't remember all of the setlist, but it was primarily from the last two solo albums. He did perform a version of J-Train that segued into "No Ordinary Love" (I think). He also did a medley of 70's hits from "Rollercoaster of Love" to "That's the Way I Like It."

One of my favorite points of the show was when a little old-school DC Talk made it into the show, at the end of the song "I'm For You":

The stage show was great. The choreography of the entire crew was impeccable. Toby has two guys and one girl who danced and took turns with the lead and backing vocals. The guitarist/trumpet player was fantastic. There was a bass player, a keyboard/electronic music expert, an amazing drummer, and the fabulous DJ Maj on the turntables. There were light bars on stage set up like the "levels" on a stereo going up and down. These would flash different colors. There were strobes on stage, and a disco ball above the floor seats surrounded by blue spots, so there was a beautiful strobe effect for "Atmosphere."

We left at the end of the first encore, because the girls were tired, but from what I've read, Toby performed another half-dozen songs or so, including "Jesus Freak." I'm sorry I missed it, but I'm glad I'll get to see it on the DVD. We went down to the swag table, and I bought them little mementos. BiggerSis got a Barlow Girl necklace. LittleSis got a Barlow Girl wristband (which I'm pretty sure she hasn't taken off since).

My favorite part of the entire experience was seeing my baby sister jumping up and down, banging her head, waving her arms, clapping and generally going nuts. I'm learning new things about her every day. I'm pretty sure, with a little coaching, she's going to be a rocker like I was.

The older one was opening up a little too. She's still a teenager, and as such is afflicted with the unnecessary self-consciousness of that age. I hope she'll soon fully believe that she really is cool, no matter who says what, and that she should just be happy with who she is.

BiggerSis wants to get tickets down on the floor in front of the stage next time, with all of the crazies. Little Sis quickly said that she wanted to sit there next time too. I promised her, as we slowly walked back to the truck, that once she gets bigger and stronger, I'll take her down into the pit in front of the stage. She looked up at me, eyes big. "Really???" "Yup." "That's gonna be awesome."

Yes it will, kiddo.

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