Tonight I went to the Michael W. Smith concert at the Flint Center. It was a stellar concert. In fact, I would place it in my top 4. My top two concert experiences were Rich Mullins at this church in Humble, TX, after his Liturgy, Legacy, and Ragamuffin Band CD, which was the most amazing concert experience ever, and Michael W. Smith at First Baptist Church on the hill in San Jose for his acoustic tour. That concert was amazing. We went early, as there was no assigned seating, and we wanted good seats. I went with James Kim, Minho Hyun, and Paul Lee. At any rate, Paul has this quality of being the luckiest person I ever met in my life. But he creates his luck. The Bay Area Christian radio station used to have more frequently these contests, where like the 7th caller gets a CD or concert tickets or something. At any rate, Paul won so much stuff from them it was insane. I think they knew him by name, and they limited him to only getting stuff once a month, if I recall correctly. So he would send the prizes to friends. But like I said, he creates (in part) his luck, and his success I think was due in part to his Superphone. Ask him about it. Anyway, he has won so many things. Various CDs, concert tickets. He also won the chance to meet Steven Curtis Chapman and stay at the Mariott’s by Great America. Lucky guy.

At any rate, it’s good to know people like that. Returning to the context of our story, at the concert we were in a line, but it was going slowly. He saw people he knew in another line, so he joined them so we had two chances at getting in early. Anyway, our line got held up, but we saw Paul squirt through and whoosh! He was off. Me and Minho laughed about it.

Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve been to stuff like this where you have to wait in line and there’s no assigned seating, but like in 5 seconds, the first 30 rows are reserved. It always happens that way. But when we finally got in, we found Paul had gotten us seats in the second row. Thanks, Paul! That concert was a blast. Everyone was so into it, and he was playing a bunch of classics, “acoustic.” I love hearing new arrangements of songs, so that was dope. Also the people we were sitting next to were also very into it, so that was fun. It was just a great concert. Also, he rebuked us! Right on stage!

The Rich Mullins concert was also something else. It was in church, and it was the most worshipful concert I’ve ever been to, and it wasn’t like they went out of their way to make it so, it just was. I remember the band: Rick Elias, Jimmy Abegg, Phil Madeira, Aaron Smith; I just can’t remember the bassist. But I remember what he looks like. At any rate, the church was jumping that day. He just totally had us rocking. And his character just shined through. There was so much energy that day. There’s one memory I have of that night; I looked and saw these old white women jumping around during this song set where he sang these old church songs, but in a kicking way. That killed me. These old white ladies, jumping around. It was that kind of concert.

Another thing I’ll never forget was when they played How To Grow Up Big and Strong. The recording on Liturgy… is OK, but when they played it live it was incredible. Like I said, just so much energy. I was floored; I couldn’t believe it was the same song. Songs are weird that way. Some songs are just way more powerful live. And some songs aren’t as good live.

Anyway, I may have written about this before, but I’ll talk about it again. The best part of the concert was how it ended. They did I See You, and you know, they’re all good musicians, and they all play on Rich’s studio albums, so it was great. Listen to the album. The build-up on energy before the vocals is incredible; just imagine it live. Also, Phil Madeira is a very talented keyboardist, so the string weren’t lacking in any way at all, although it might have been a B-3 at the concert; I can’t remember. At any rate, he sang it, then you know, at the end he got us to echo the “everywhere I go I see you” part. Then he got the church (it really was church, not just the building), to have one side sing the line, then the other side echo, and he stopped singing. He is really good at doing that, getting the audience to participate in singing. I don’t know, with some people, when they try to get the audience to participate, it just feels forced or artificial. But it was so good then. I’m sure part of it was that it was kind of more intimate, in a church, without like the fancy lights and all that, just them and us.

Anyhow, he got us to do that, singing amongst ourselves, and he stopped singing, and just kind of backed away from the mic and let us do our thing. Then one by one, a musician would stop playing and put down his instrument and leave. Actually, he left first. And finally it was just the drums, and then he stops and leaves. But there was so much energy there, it was so worshipful, that we just kept going. There was no one on stage, but we just kept singing, for what seemed an uncomfortably long time. It must have been at least 8 minutes. And I am convinced we would have gone on indefinitely until they came back. It was just an amazing experience, because it just didn’t lessen, even when you thought, ok, that’s enough times, it just kept getting louder and louder.

Finally, the whole band came back and started playing again, and that was a rush. Finally, they all drop out again, and it’s just us singing the same line we’ve been singing for 15 minutes, and Rich playing piano. Listen to the recording; he did basically the same thing. And it leads straight into Step By Step, just piano and the whole church singing, just really singing. Then they left. But the audience wouldn’t stop applauding, not a single person left their seat. So the band came out one last time, and this was not a planned encore, because they didn’t know what to play. Rich apologized for not having any more songs. So people started yelling song titles from the audience. Great. I think they did one of them, then he’s all, “do you know this one?” and started playing Lord I Lift Your Name on High. This is summer of ’94, if I remember. And he was winging it; some of the chords were wrong. Anyway we would never have let him leave, but at the end, he said, let’s all turn around, so we all faced the back of the church, with the band, and once more sang Step By Step, and it just felt totally appropriate and so fitting an ending. Everyone, I think, felt closure to such a great night. It was just, wow. Such an incredible concert.

Also they were so cool, if you stuck around, they all came out to talk to people, and stayed until everyone left. So I got to get his autograph and while I was talking to him, I asked him what his song Jacob And 2 Women was about, because it makes no sense (neither does What Susan Said, by the way) and he just kind of chuckled, and I’ll never forget what he said. He said like, “Well, it’s just a story from the Bible, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to make much sense, but then again, neither does life, sometimes.” That really, really, made me think.

And this is what I think he meant. The Bible really, isn’t a code of morality, or a book of stories, or law. That is, it’s not just that. I think more than anything, it’s a book about human life. The most perfect book about human life. And because it reflects and comments on the human condition so perfectly, it must have these stories, about humans that don’t seem to make much sense, because life doesn’t seem to make much sense. How reassuring; if the Bible were less than that, just a book about perfect law or perfect people, how could we possibly relate? Or how could we accept it as something for us? But it’s about life, and reflects every aspect of our life, and says more about our actual, real lives, not just some perfect life, than anything else on earth. So I think Jacob And 2 Women is just a story from the Bible, that’s all. But the Bible so truly reflects the human condition, our life. And I think that’s why he subtitled the song “The World As Best As I Can Remember It.” Anyway, you can think about it too and tell me what you think.

At any rate, the concert tonight was excellent. The energy was so there. Energy just kills me. It’s such a difficult thing to capture. So when it happens, it floors me. It was there tonight. In particular the second set. He played Secret Ambition with more energy than I have ever seen; it really was amazing. Then they played Cross Of Gold, one of the 4 most energetic songs MWS has recorded, in my opinion (I’ll talk about that later), so it made me happy, and my goodness, the energy was insane. Here’s the amazing thing: they maintained that evergy despite the fact that the crowd was pretty boring. I mean, we sat down almost the entire concert. The thing about concerts is that the audience and the band feed off of each other energy wise. I mean, they’ll play the same music regardless, but there’s this intangible energy thing. And the band just feeds off of the audience’s energy when it’s there. If you’ve been to a good concert before I’m sure you know what I mean.

But the audience was so non-energetic. That the band gave so much energy despite that really, really, impressed me. The Secret Ambition / Cross of Gold combo was just so totally incredible. People actually started standing up during Cross of Gold. Anyway, after that song, everyone stood up, even though the next song was only good, and I think that was because the energy surplus was just crazy. You don’t understand how awesome Cross of Gold was. If the people didn’t stand up, well, the energy would just have to go somewhere. Great stuff.

Another reason the concert was good: He did a nice long extended set with just him and keys. He really is a talented musician, and he was great. Because it was nice and long, and good. I can’t help but compare this concert to his last one, the I’ll Lead You Home tour, because despite the front row seats, that was a pretty bad concert. But this one was incredible. At any rate, his token lone keys set was much better this time around. He also did several old songs, which was good. I really mean old, like Pray For Me, Rocketown, Emmanuel, Great Is The Lord, How Majestic Is Your Name. I mean, some seriously old material. Oh, he also sang Draw Me Close, the Vineyard song. Fairly well. So that was good.

That was another good thing: his attitude seems to have changed, and he really seems to have a desire to be God-centered in his life. I know he’s been doing a lot with the Utmost For His Highest CDs. Also he produced that Exodus CD, a Praise and Worship compilation. And his label has been signing several people associated with praise and worship, like Chris Rice and Watermark. At any rate, worship was also a big part of the concert, with some of the songs mentioned above. He also ended with Rich Mullins’ I See You (nowhere near as good as Rich) and finally with I Love You Lord, you know, that really old praise song. That was encouraging.

Also, he talked a lot during the concert. In fact, near the end he nearly gave an altar call. It wasn’t exactly, but he talked a lot about the love of God, and for a while. Almost an altar call, without the call. But it was encouraging, to me, because it was genuine.

Another good part of the concert was Chris Rice. I highly recommend you listen to him. But this guy is so great. He’s just this really simple looking, kind of goofy guy, and it was just him and guitar, but it was so moving. My goodness. It really was. He’s just a really cool guy, you can tell, who is really goofy, and not at all cool, but so sincere, and with incredible songs. I really highly recommend him.

The concert actually opened up with this band Wilshire. The thing is, they’re really musically talented, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. It’s strange how that is. I kept thinking, I really admire their talent, but I just don’t dig. Anyway, they’re kind of cool. There was the pre-concert rally and they played with Chris Rice, Lord I Lift Your Name On High, and they just looked cool. I mean, they played cool, and sang cool. And Chris Rice just looked so goofy and dorky. He played dorky and you couldn’t hear him but he looked dorky. He’s definitely not as talented musically. But there’s something about his music, the way he plays and sings, and what he sings, that’s just so incredible. It’s weird how that connection is kind of independent of talent. That’s one thought I had tonight. At any rate, I can’t recomment Chris Rice enough.

So this concert was a really great one, top 4. I’m thinking, it will never reach the sacred top 2 concert experiences. Honestly, I think no concert that’s not in a church will ever reach that inner sanctum. But it was perhaps the best auditorium type concert I’ve been to. Another that was good was Steven Curtis Chapman in San Jose with Susan Ashton and Out of the Grey, the Great Adventure tour. It was the first time I heard Out of the Grey ever and they were incredible. Everyone was impressed, and like, who is this band? SCC was also on that night. But that was also a great concert. I can’t remember it totally, so can’t say if that was better than MWS tonight. But that’s my top 4 concert experiences. Actually Sting/Jars of Clay in Houston for Mercury Falling would also be up there. But a step below.

What’s strange is I’ve been to bad concerts by all of them too. Or not as good. MWS I’ll Lead You Home in San Jose Arena was only fair. I didn’t really get into SCC / Newsboys Heaven in the Real World frosh year. And the Rich Mullins / Ashley Cleveland / Carolyn Arends sophomore year (which I saw with Clara Kim!) was only OK.

I’ve actually been to a few concerts now that I think about it. Petra once. Just OK. Actually twice. Once in San Jose with Youngsoon Park, Jay Lee, and Daniel Ouyang, which was only OK, also that concert was the first time I heard the Newsboys, way before people had heard of them. Once again in Houston Astroworld, which was actually better. The thing about amusement park concerts is you don’t expect much because the atmosphere isn’t the best. And I remember being impressed that they were pretty good considering. I saw Al Denson once at Los Gatos which was not that great. Too many teenyboppers. Christian teenyboppers are the worst. So depressing. David Meece twice. Once was so boring, my friend fell asleep. That was a terrible concert. Once again in Houston. Also laughable. This was KSBJ’s anniversary concert, he was the headline act, and was advertised with band. The thing is, he had a really minimal band, not even a band, so they used a sound track also. The funny thing is he remembered his songs wrong, so he would often play differently than the sound track. Funny. Also at this concert was Mylon Levevre, a bunch of people I don’t remember and Rebecca St. James, right when her first album came out. Pretty boring.

Let’s see… Steve Camp I saw once at the Crossroads church in San Jose. That was also pretty boring, to be honest. Michael Card I’ve seen many times, but you don’t go to his concerts for energy. I don’t go to his concerts anymore because it’s too much the same. I need more, musically, to keep me interested. Since the energy thing isn’t a factor, I stick with just his CDs, which are excellent.

I saw 4Him and Michael English with Minho once. This is the concert that helped me decide never again to go to a concert that uses sound tracks instead of a live band. You just lose the energy.

One good experience was Susan Ashton/Gary Chapman at 2nd Baptist in Houston. I got in free, as I went by myself during intermission. I had just remembered hearing about the concert and couldn’t find the location of this church where this revival was taking place so I stopped by and just got in. At any rate, it was pleasant. Except Susan Ashton has the worst stage presence ever. The 2 best things about this concert was Gospel Ship, the most rocking song. Again, the church thing might have something to do with it, because it wasn’t as good at some arena with Amy Grant on the House of Love tour, and the recording of it on Shelter just doesn’t capture the energy at all. But it was incredible. Also, at the very end, he performed Man After Your Own Heart, just him and guitar, that was amazing. So that was a good concert.

Out of the Grey I’ve seen the most. Once with SCC, once at Great America with Kathy Yung(!), once with the Trio, instead of going to Screw Your Sib freshman year, once that Memorial Day weekend down south somewhere, with that kids lady. I’ve always enjoyed their concerts, but they’re never had a floor me concert. Except maybe the first one, but they didn’t headline, and it was just because I was hearing them the first time.

Anyway, I’m really into energy in music, because it really is so hard to capture. Easier live, but still not easy. Here are some songs that do capture energy, and they somehow got it onto CD:

  • Fade To Grey – Jars of Clay. I’ve mentioned this before, but there is so much energy in this song.
  • Cross of Gold – Michael W. Smith. As I said, one of his 4 most energetic songs. It is just so intricate, and an incredible recording. It’s amazing that they can perform this live, because in the recording, there’s so much stuff going on. Amazing.
  • Secret Ambition – MWS. I would only say this after tonight, because it was performed with amazing energy tonight, even better than on the Acoustic Tour.
  • I’ll Help You Find Your Way – MWS. OK, I find some obscure songs really good, and this is one of them, off of i2eye. By the end of the song, there is an incredible amount of energy. I’ve always wanted to see this live. It would rock my world.
  • Someday – MWS. This is off of the 2nd Utmost for His Highest CD. The incredible thing about this song is how the energy builds. Because it starts off small. But he constantly adds more, and keeps modulating, and by the middle, it rocks. Also, there is so much stuff going on here musically. Another song that would be incredible live, but it would take too much to do it.
  • The Howling – Rich Mullins. Some songs you don’t appreciate until you crank it up and really listen to it one day. I mean, you may have heard it before, but never really heard it. Listen to this song and set it so the acoustic guitar is really well heard, and leave it at that volume. I promise you, the energy by the last chord is incredible.
  • Nothing But Love – Twila Paris. I don’t even know if that’s the name. But this song also is amazing to me, and it might not have the energy, but the thing about this song is I could totally see how it could. Someday I will cover this song. It’s got so much potential energy. It’s the one that goes, “Nothing but love in its purest form…”
  • Winds of Worship Tape 3 – Vineyard. I actually don’t know if it’s the tape, but way back then WoW was just a conference and not a CD series, they used to sell these cassettes, a group of 4, of recordings from the different conferences. They took some of the songs from these tapes and remixed them and those became the first two CDs in the WoW series. At any rate, this 3rd tape was seriously incredible. Almost the entire tape is bathed in pure energy. All my friends who heard it agree with me and we all long for it. At any rate, one song was particularly special. It was a version of Show Your Power (there were two on tape 3 alone) with Terry Butler. But my goodness, the energy was so amazing, at the end, there’s just this rush of energy and the people explode in applause. So when I heard they were coming out on CD, I was excited. And this song made it onto the CD, so I was so excited, but when I heard it, they had remixed it and somehow removed all the energy from the original recording. It was so bitterly disappointing. I’ve gotten used to it now and the CD recording is OK, but that original tape had something special. If someone can find it for me, I would really appreciate it.

There are some other songs that are amazing, but with a different kind of energy. One is Insult Like the Truth, by Charlie Peacock. So intricate musically it’s amazing. Another is Blessed Be The Name of the Lord, by Brent Bourgeouis. Again, so intricate, but these songs have a different kind of energy.

I can’t believe I spent so much time writing on stuff only I care about. Oh well.

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