Friday, September 18, 2009

Concert Review & Commentary: The Black Eye Tour, Derek Webb w/ Sandra McCracken, The 930 Listening Room, Louisville, 9/17/09

Derek Webb.  The founding member of Caedmon's Call launched solo with She Must and Shall Go Free, an album about the Gospel and the Church.  I See Things Upside Down and Mockingbird began to make people squeemish, though, as Derek's Gospel exposition led to Gospel application, tackling topics ranging from evangelical hypocrisy to poverty to politics.  There was only one more boundary to cross, and with The Ringing Bell, Derek committed the unpardonable sin and started playing rock and roll.

Well, actually, most of D. Webb's reformed constituency dig rock, so no harm no foul.  One must admit, it was a Dylanesque step: turning up the heat while turning up the volume.  They say that a conflict of interest disclosed is no conflict, so here's my disclosure: I've enjoyed every twist and turn of Derek's career, often taking cathartic joy from his blunt confrontation of truth.  I dug his rock sound in part because 1), I like rock music and 2) I like Derek Webb.  I was expecting to hear more of the same for a while, but there are no wheels in music so we might as well embrace reinvention.  A few months ago, the interwebs began to blow up about a new Derek Webb controversy.  I didn't really give a sh*t that he said sh*t, honestly, but I was surprised to hear him crooning over trip-hop dance pop beats and loopes.  Enter Stockholm Syndrome.

I thought the title was brilliant, for evangelical Christianity is truly afflicted by the neurosis.   Stockholm Syndrome, as you know, is a condition in which a captive begans to identify with their captor.  The cultural captivity of the church is something that seems to happen on a generational basis, only for the most part, evangelical Christianity is captive to a culture that is dying - traditional, moralistic, Judeo-Christian America.   More liberal strains of Christianity (especially the ones that begin to drop the "Christ" out of the Christianity) are double captive, one could argue, as they embrace the postmodern ethos, so blatantly determined to build a pluralistic, pagan culture.  The great tragedy of reformed evangelical Christianity, though, is that many commentators understand the biblical world well, and usually understand philosophical concepts well, all while doing a bad job of interacting with the way the culture expresses itself in art, fashion, trends, etc.  These segments lambasted Webb, with my friend Denny Burk writing a hot button blog post, that by-and-large missed the gist of Webb's zeitgeist.  (Specifically, the track in question was "What Matter's More," which calls evangelical fervor/furor over gay marriage onto the carpet.)  One particular comment (from a reader) was cringe-inducing for me: "I have loved DW’s music … up until now. He used to be prophetic. In this song, he’s simply pandering to his audience. You’re not prophetic, if your audience likes what you’re saying. And his listeners are the tattooed hipsters who sip Guinness and hide their Liberty University diplomas behind their U2 LPs."

To me, the great appeal of Derek's music is that it is prophetic: Edgy, unsettling words set to honey-sweet music. Having seen Derek perform back "in the old days" and having seen the launch of his previous tour at this same venue, I knew I could expect one thing from the headliner. Rather than wearing sackloth or a camel skin belt, Derek would be wearing a plain white t-shirt. To my delighted surprise, the plain & tee remained, but the color had switched from blank to dark.  Derek dressed in the style he had often come previously, in the spirit and power of Cash.  Derek took the stage as a man in black.  With Stockholm producer/Caedmon's alum Josh Moore laying down loops and beats, and phenomenal drummer bringing the noise, Derek proceeded to play all of Syndrome straight through, stopping in the middle to just push pause and pick up the ole' axe for a buy-request accoustic set.

Although the difference in musical styles was severe, it was good to see the same old Derek playing the old ballads without a hint of irony. Despite allegations that prophets cannot have approving audiences, it brought back memories of times when I cheered him on previously, or watched my more-reformed-than-me friends cheer his taking down of the Arminian establishment.   He closed the by-request sub-set with "Reputation" a song written to his wife and opening act, Sandra McCracken, who was phenomenal.  (Don't tell anyone but I like her more than Derek and I like Derek a whole whole lot.)  This segued well into another song about Sandra, only this one electric: "I Love/Hate You," which resumed the Syndrome set.  His dance club-synth pop made the 930 feel cooler than it ever has before, including sexy, UPC-like lighting that flashed in rythym to the beat. I really wish that the chairs had been swapped for hard wood because Derek's bass lines made me want to dance, but oh well.  As it was the first night of the show, small mess-ups occurred at times but that only added to the authenticity in my book.

I guess the moral of the story is that prophecy in the lower-case "p" sense does need to come from us sinners with much humility but the Scripture warns us to not despise them.  Logically, this includes tattooed, Guinness-sipping prophets like Derek Webb.  The show was strong in its own right, but when the content of Derek's ethical musings and rebukings are weighed in the balance, they are not found wanting. It was a great evening, and if you happen to be in a town in proximity to the Black Eye tour, I highly recommend that you take the punch.

(All) that said, here's Derek's set. 

Stockholm Syndrome, pt. 1
  • Opening Credit
  • Black Eye   
  • Cobra Con  
  • Freddie, Please   
  • The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum   
  • What Matters More   
  • The State   
  • The Proverbial Gun  
Acoustic, By Request, Interlude  

  • Lover
  • I Want a Broken Heart
  • Savior on Capitol Hill
  • Wedding Dress 
  • Reputation
Stockholm Syndrome, pt. 2

  • I Love/Hate You   
  • Becoming A Slave   
  • Jena & Jimmy   
  • Heaven   
  • What You Give Up To Get It   
  • American Flag Umbrella   

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At 8:28 AM , Blogger Jake said...

Excellent review, brother. It was truly a night to remember.

At 8:46 AM , Anonymous wren said...

Good review Paul. Thanks from those of us that didn't attend.


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