ALL THE WAY LIVE
1999 would prove to be a pivotal year in my young life for many reasons. I had just started the ever-tumultuous 8th grade, I got my first job washing dishes at a local greasy spoon, I finally managed to score my first kiss, and most importantly… I started my first Christian rock band. This may never have come to be though, had not an equally significant event taken place before hand. That significant event was The Supernatural Tour.
I still have the ticket stub from the concert. I had been invited to attend by a kid named Kyle. We had become friends in the Fall of ’98 upon returning to school. He was the first person I encountered in my small town who had any clue that Christian rock even existed. Sometime after the New Year he asked me if I wanted to go with him to see this show.
The Supernatural Tour featured the indisputable heavyweight champs of the CCM modern rock world. DC Talk were at the peak of their career, burning up the Christian charts and actually blazing a few trails for mainstream rock as well. They would be the headliners of a rather eclectic bill supported by Jennifer Knapp and The W’s. There were several thousand in attendance at the Fargo Dome that night and we had seventh row floor seats right alongside the catwalk. This would be quite the introduction to live music. I was actually a bit nervous with expectant anticipation, slightly jittery even. Giant speakers lined the immense stage area and huge racks of lights and lasers hung from the ceiling. Wisps of smoke would randomly drift across the stage as the fog machines warmed up. There were projectors and massive screens for the incorporation of video into the show as well.
The support acts came out first with The W’s kicking things off. They were a modern swing band who had vaulted to prominence riding the wave of successful swing revival acts like The Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. They rocked out for a short set, closing with their “hit” song ‘The Devil is Bad’. For some reason I also remember their vocalist balancing a guitar vertically with the headstock resting on his chin. Cool.
By contrast, Jennifer Knapp was an introspective singer songwriter who sonically fell along the lines of Alanis Morissette but with an even greater lyrical depth and vulnerability. Knapp filled her slot with a half an hour of finely crafted alt-folk songs… a tough sell at a youth-oriented rock concert. At the time I thought “she totally sucked” and was definitely way more into the dum-dum, simplistic imagery of “The Devil is Bad” than the highly poetic and mature theological depth of “Martyrs and Thieves”. At the time…
After a short intermission the lights went dim. That would be the last thing I clearly remember from the evening. The next two hours or so would be a blurring audio/visual assault on the senses as DC Talk ripped through song after high octane song. Even the more subdued moments carried a percolating intensity as the group’s three front-men wove a tapestry of harmonies interlaced with rock-and-roll bravado and a passionate spiritual energy. It was impossible to not get caught up in the moment… or the message.
At no point was this convergence of emotions and spirituality more poignant than at the climax of the group’s phenomenal cover of the classic “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” by one Larry Norman (foreshadowing of future story-lines starts… NOW!). The song is a treatise that speaks of an impending “rapture” where all the true believers are whisked away in the blink of an eye and everyone else is left behind to suffer through a terrible period of tribulation. Though referring to a (perceived) future event, the song is sung in past tense and in the end reaches a dramatic conclusion with the closing line, “the Son has come and you’ve been left behind.” The implication being that the listener is in need of salvation… as soon as possible.
When the raw emotion and physical release of a rock concert is combined with teenage hormonal imbalance and youthful impressionability it makes for a highly combustible package. All it takes is a spark to blow someone away. The spark is the message. In this case it is the message of salvation through Jesus Christ by simply “letting him into your life” or “asking him into your heart.” It would take me a decade understand what was really happening in these explosive moments and to discern the potential theological and spiritual perils born thereof. But we will get into that later.
For now it’s enough to say that my mind was blown, both by the rock-and-roll and the spiritual content of the night. As Kyle and I walked out of the Fargo Dome I had a whole new set of thoughts and feelings about what it meant to be a Christian and an intense desire to rock out…
I have apologize to my sister for giving her such a hard time about listening to Jennifer Knapp in high school. The W’s were fun and still get the occasional spin, but this is truly an example of masterful artistry and theological profundity.