Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"You are the music while the music lasts." -T.S. Eliot

I've dubbed this summer the "Summer Concert Marathon" summer. Never in my life have I devoted so much consecutive time and money to such a cause, but I feel good about the commitment to a concert marathon for this particular summer. My soul is in need for "the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life," as Beethoven so eloquently mused. I think his description is spot on. The spiritual life is one that often seems abstract and distant for me, but music is that one bridge between things that are concretely available to my very active senses and things that occupy my mind and heart but are less available in that concrete way. Music is concrete, but it is also abstract. That dichotomy serves the human soul well, I think.

I want to share with you about my first two concerts of the summer concert marathon.

1. Fitz and the Tantrums at the Vogue Theater
The first thing I want to say is that if you have not heard this band's stuff and you like Motown or Raphael Saadiq, please check them out. I heard their music thanks to one of those weird facebook sidebar adds (also how I found out about one of my other favorite bands, Company of Thieves), but I was attracted to the add because of the look of the band. The frontman and founding father of the band, Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz), has this strange rock look-- a full vintage solid-colored suit, white shoes, long in the front side-parted hair with a large white streak, an oval middle-aged face with piercing blue eyes. In all honesty he looks a bit scary, but in real life he's actually not scary at all. The other face of the band is a voluptuous beautiful black woman, named Noelle Scaggs, who wears these show-stopper sequin dresses that you would find on the Supremes in the 1970s. Fitz and his lady are quite the pair, but their dynamics on stage are surprisingly electric.

I have been listening to their album Picking Up the Pieces consistently from the time it was released up until the concert. Their tunes are very catchy, especially their radio hit Moneygrabber. I could sing and dance to that song for hours straight and be really happy...what I'm trying to say is that the band has this amazing energy and style to their sound, and I hoped that the concert would be that energy and style incarnate. I was not let down!  Despite the surprising age of the band members (on average maybe 35?), every person added their own high energy and distinct personality into the mix. Their performance is proof not only of their delight in performing music, but also their musical abilities and talent. These are some seasoned musicians. My favorite part of the show was that the band was not afraid to interact with the audience members. Fitz and Noelle demanded audience participation and made us all feel comfortable dancing in the square foot of room we had to dance. This is in part due to the intimacy of the venue, too. I have never been close enough to a band to see how much they sweat...well, that could have been due to the fact that most of them were wearing three-piece suits... but the Vogue is such a great venue for that intimacy.

All-in-all, it was one of my favorite concerts, and I felt totally engaged and excited for the majority of songs. They threw in a few covers that were fun to sing along with, and they ended on my favorite tune of theirs, Moneygrabber. Fitz also gave a sincere thanks to the audience members and acknowledged our role in making them able to pursue their dream of performing their music, which I thought was really unique and wonderful of him to do. The chemistry between the band and the audience was just unlike any other. A true connection. I left the Vogue that night with a smile and a bounce that lasted for a few days, I think.

2. Josh Garrels at Muncie Alliance Church
I came into this concert a bit less familiar with the artist and his music than compared to most other concerts I attend, but a lot of my friends are big fans of Garrels's music, and I knew I would enjoy it from the bits and pieces of his stuff that I have heard. This man has the voice of a siren and the lyrics of a wise poet. He breathes life and voice into words taken straight from the texts studied in churches for centuries. His melodies are unique, and his beats stop you in your tracks long enough to convict your heart.

This concert was very much a homecoming concert for Josh. He spent a lot of his spiritually formative years in Indiana (especially Muncie and Indianapolis) interning and pastoring at churches in the Alliance movement. My pastor is really good friends with Josh, so it has been cool to get some inside scoop on his music and life journey backing his music. 

But I didn't know much about Garrels coming into the concert and wasn't sure what to expect musically. His new album has a full band sound, but when the concert started, the stage consisted of Garrels sitting in a stool with his guitar and his friend alternating between bass guitar, accordion, melodica, and sometimes a combination of more than one of those . I found out as the show went on that Josh also had a device with tracks recorded so that he could play along to his beats and string parts, which was awesome. At one point he put aside all live instrumentation in order to stand and passionately MC along with one of his tracks for his song called Resistance (one of my favorite moments of the show).

The thing I love most about Josh's music is his personal heart in each song. You can tell that his songs derive from a deep, deep place, whether from his own life experiences or from the truths that have been enlightened and revealed to him through his strong faith in God. They are songs of a man hurting, seeking, and trusting. I honestly don't remember much else from the concert simply because it was so overstimulating. I found myself sitting still and staring blankly at the end of his show because I was trying to digest everything I had just heard. My mind was completely engaged and I related a lot to the struggles and grace of which he sang. It was most certainly a compelling spiritual and intellectual exercise for me, and I look forward to spending more time with Garrels's music.

    Watch this and be compelled:

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