There is an adage that says it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you get back up one time more.
Scott Stapp continues to prove that he’ll always get up one time more than he’s knocked down. He’s also proving to his critics that he continues to be relevant in the music world.
Scott is currently touring for his new album The Space Between the Shadows, and he hit the Dallas House of Blues on July 13 in advance of the album’s July 19 release date. While it might be trendy for 90s artists to hit the road with “reunion” tours, Scott’s new material is as good and relevant today as anything he’s ever sung.
In addition to four songs from the new album, Stapp sang a mix of songs from both Creed and his previous solo release Proof of Life. Even though some of the Creed songs date back to 1997 (“My Own Prison”), Scott’s voice belted out both the old and new stronger than ever. He has surrounded himself with some highly talented musicians from all over the world to complete this tour.
The show opened with Creed’s “Bullets,” “Slow Suicide” from Proof of Life, and “My Own Prison” (a song he says “introduced him to the music industry”), followed by a very passionate “What If” that got the crowd very engaged.
But would the crowd engagement last into a new song? The answer was a resounding yes, as Scott went into the high-energy “Face of the Sun” that kept the crowd on their feet. Two songs later he introduced another new song, after talking about his own experiences growing up without a father. He left the crowd with an assurance this his son would never endure that same challenge as he burst into a very emotional rendition of “Name.” Clearly, Scott is not going to sidestep or play down any of the hard issues that have made him who he is.
Once the crowd was in an emotional state, Scott went into fan favorites “Arms Wide Open” and “Higher.” The crowd ate it up as they sang along almost as loud as Scott, even though he had the advantage of a microphone! He then challenged the crowd to learn the new songs as he went into “Purpose for Pain,” another new song from The Space Between the Shadows.
After the token “leave the stage so we can come back for an encore,” Scott got very serious as he talked about a topic that is really on his heart and that of his wife Jaclyn. They have committed to bringing hope to impoverished children worldwide through ChildFund, a child-sponsorship program. Scott is serious enough to put his money where his mouth is. He told the crowd that if they signed up to sponsor a child that night, then come July 19, they would receive a signed copy of the new album.
The encore started with one more new song, a single so new that it only came out two days before the show. “Gone Too Soon” went out to anyone we lost far too young, through accident, suicide, substance abuse, serving our country, or whatever. It was a hard song to get through.
Scott ended the show with a couple of Weathered classics, “One Last Breath” and “My Sacrifice,” which seemed to leave the crowd satisfied– at least until next year’s tour.
Kingdom Come Festival in Greentown, IN, celebrated its 10th anniversary in June, with 2 days full of Christian music–29 bands/artists in all–on one stage!
This festival is run on donations so that festival parking, admission, and on-site camping can be free. It is such a blessing not only to those in IN, but to people across the US, who travel hundreds of miles to attend KCF each year. The festival features primarily Christian rock bands, but also brings in a couple artists of other genres, such as rap and contemporary Christian.
This was my first year attending KCF, and I was most excited to see Forsaken Hero perform live and meet frontman Casey Price. Forsaken Hero released their EP Anthem on June 1, and I tracked piano for two of the songs– “Masterpiece”, which also features Tate Olsen (touring cellist for Skillet), and “From Now On,” a cover from the hit movie The Greatest Showman. The band enthusiastically performed songs off the EP at the festival, opening up day 2 for The Protest and Fireflight. Casey Price said he is thankful that they were invited to play at KCF, and called it “a surreal experience…a dream come true!”
What makes KCF unique– aside from it being a totally free event– is that it is held in a veteran’s memorial park. Throughout the event you can see attendees and band members taking time to pray for, honor, and thank those who have served our country. KCF provides a great time for community and fellowship, and the message throughout the event is clear: you are loved. You matter.
If you would like to donate to help support this growing event and help them be fully funded for 2019, please send donations here.
When the final notes of “(*Fin)” rang out at the end of Anberlin’s last show in 2014, the band’s devout fanbase expected they would never hear that transcendent musical chemistry again. Bands come and go every day, especially in an era where it is harder than ever to play rock and roll professionally. But the musical community seemed to feel this loss particularly keenly, knowing that the once-in-a-lifetime tones effortlessly created by Anberlin could never be replaced.
“We’ll live forever,” Stephen Christian belted over the outro chords of “(*Fin).”
2019 has proved those words were a kind of prophecy, sung from the band’s deathbed.
When a reunion show happened in Florida last December, fans instantly made it clear: they wanted more. Anberlin has delivered this summer with a full North American tour. I threw my camera gear in my car and drove to Dallas for the tour’s first night– a particularly nostalgic experience for me, as I grew up going to Anberlin shows in Dallas a decade ago.
We live in an era when nostalgia is one of the most marketable commodities. While the current industry environment can be forbidding to newer acts trying to claim their own legacy, bands who have not charted on the radio since the 90s can make a very tidy living playing moderately sized venues full of listeners reliving their best memories. And there is absolutely value to the nostalgia tour, even though it is usually held to different musical standards of excellence.
The question could easily be asked about Anberlin’s run across America: what category does it fall under? It’s been half a decade since Anberlin’s farewell, and they’ve made it clear that at this time they have no firm plans for music to come. This means it’s not your standard, album-promo-cycle tour. But within the first moments of the gritty intro to “Godspeed,” drifting over an ecstatic House of Blues crowd, it was clear that this is not just a nostalgia tour either. Anberlin’s musical mastery is still very much alive– as is the passion of their fans.
The band rolled through three fan favorites to open the set: “Godspeed,” “Never Take Friendship Personal,” and “Paperthin Hymn.” The energy was breathtaking, the band on stage captivating, always in motion. Each of the riff-heavy songs was carried by Joseph Milligan and Christian McAlhaney, offering the searing guitar tones that are Anberlin’s signature.
Free from the constraints of any guideline aside from the songs everyone in the room universally wanted to sing, there was the sense that Anberlin found a lot of joy in choosing the evening’s setlist. The list skewed Cities-centric, a wise choice in a room full of people who likely have that album intertwined with their own coming of age. With “Hello Alone,” “Adelaide,” and “Dismantle. Repair,” the room was seemingly transported into the emotional experience of loving and losing and becoming. Stephen Christian’s ethereal voice never had to carry a single note alone, only breaking away from the roaring melody of the crowd for an occasional seemingly impossible ascent, such as when he held a note in “Unwinding Cable Car” perfectly on pitch for what felt like minutes. The participatory element was taken to the next level when the band brought a fan on stage to sing most of “Inevitable.”
There was a strong showing from other moments in the discography too. Upbeat “A Day Late” and melancholic “Time and Confusion” gave further representation to Never Take Friendship Personal. Even New Surrender, an album often overshadowed by its one massive radio single (“Feel Good Drag”) had a strong showing with “Disappear” and “The Resistance.” In addition to “Impossible,” “Down” came from Dark is the Way, Light is a Place and offered an acoustic moment that led to heartfelt encouragement from Stephen Christian to fight for positive change in a world so needy of our voices and our time freely given.
As the band worked in more songs from their last two albums, Vital and Lowborn, towards the end of the set, there was almost a desperation in the voices of fans still singing along strong– as if yet again, they didn’t want it all to end. As if they could be sweating and singing in that one moment for the rest of time. “Feel Good Drag” closed off the main set, prompting a rowdy rock show moment of flying hair and microphones extended off stage and into the crowd to amplify their already deafening roar. Appropriately, Anberlin ended the night with “(Fin*),” the great magnum opus about death, God, addiction, and the way we all stumble blindly towards the light.
Maybe the best question that could be asked of Anberlin right now is simply how. How does a band fully let go of their career, do zero promotion for nearly five years, and come back to sell out venues across the country? How does a band overcome the digital overcrowd, calling fans who were once Warped Tour kids and are now parents and professionals back into the gritty clubs to sing along? If Anberlin’s immortal, how exactly did they achieve that?
The question of how to make immortal art is an obvious one that has been asked since the dawn of creativity itself. After watching Anberlin light a room of souls on fire in Dallas, I would hazard my guess at an answer: if you want to be immortal as a band, sings immortal songs. Sing about the universal human experiences of suffering, love, loss, joy, the process of digging meaning out of the wreckage we all find ourselves in. Connection is immortal. Hope is immortal. And with those eternal things central to everything Anberlin is, I think they really might live forever.
All photos by Chad Fenner and Mary Nikkel. See the full gallery here.
If you’re feeling as nostalgic as we are, revisit my interview from Anberlin’s 2014 farewell tour at the link below.
Amid the reunion rumors, our staff discuss what a DC Talk tour would mean both personally and to Christian rock as a whole. Join our discussion by adding your thoughts on Facebook!
By now, unless you’ve been on vacation or otherwise absent from social media, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the interview on Minnesota-based 98.5 KTIS in which Newsboys lead singer and former DC Talk member Michael Tait hinted at plans of a 2020 reunion for the iconic and highly influential trio.
Tait offered few specific details on when or what exactly “a few dates” looks like. Speculation ranges from a few festival appearances (Creation East, here’s looking at you), to a 15-20 city run at small venues, or more. Over the last 15 to 20 years, we’ve often heard rumors of a reunion and seen nothing come to fruition.
So rather than harp on the news itself, Rock On Purpose staff decided to take a look at this from a different perspective.
Many current artists in the rock space, and in turn many of us, were either directly or indirectly influenced by what DC Talk accomplished in the 1990s. In their prime, DC Talk were pushing boundaries of CCM, earning crossover success, and experimenting with combinations that paved the way for a Christian rock explosion in the late 90s and early 2000s– until the rap, rock and soul trio began an intermission by embarking on solo careers.
So, rather than repeat what’s already been said so eloquently by so many outlets, we are going to take a moment to reflect and ponder what a possible DC Talk reunion would mean to us as individuals and what it means for the industry– particularly for rock and roll– if DC Talk comes back and potentially creates new music together.
Matt Durlin, Lead Contributor
I grew up in a Christian home and went to youth group in the 90s when DC Talk was hitting their Jesus Freak era. I was introduced to the band by a friend in middle school, and we would take turns singing and rapping verses on the Free At Last album. “Luv is a Verb” and “Lean on Me” were my jams in 1992, y’all.
During my senior year in high school, dc Talk released Supernatural, which was one of the most influential albums of my adolescence. I was privileged to see them on the Supernatural Experience tour 20 years ago, and at Creation Northeast the same year. I also got to see the band perform live on the Solo tour before they took a very long hiatus. Their music and lyrics have carried me through dark seasons of rebellion, taught me to persevere in my faith, and to focus on taking life one day at a time. I remember worshiping to “Red Letters” late at night and declaring myself as “Fearless” in the face of difficult times.
In 2017, I saw the trio reunite on the high sea for the first Jesus Freak cruise, which led to a series of events that brought us into a season of taking a leap of faith and connected me, ultimately, with Rock On Purpose.
When a band is allowing God to use them to the point of literally life-altering spirit movement, it would be hugely significant if they do a reunion on land. For starters, I would love to be able to take my family to see the band perform live– my kids have never seen them in person, and my wife only on a cruise in a very small venue. The live DC Talk experience is unrivaled.
From an industry standpoint, since DC Talk last walked the walk there has been a decrease in the variety of genres being played on radio. Rock and roll, unless it’s an established act or a made-for-radio single, has been shuffled into an underground category. If DC Talk reunites to the level of success that Newsboys United is experiencing, it could serve as a reminder that there is still a market for rock and roll, that the heavy songs like “Jesus Freak” and “Supernatural” are still important. Perhaps it would lead DC Talk to doing something new and leading us into an era where we get to freak out again.
Jessi Zilka, Throwback Contributor
DC Talk set the bar for creativity and success within Christian music in the 90s with albums like Free At Last, Jesus Freak, and Supernatural. They didn’t simply mirror what was popular in the mainstream industry as so many others around them were doing. They established their own unique sound aesthetic– and boy, did they do it well. It’s because of this that they are still considered one of the most influential artists in all of Christian music history.
I think I could speak for a large majority of Christian rock listeners from the 90s when I say that a DC Talk reunion would be something extra special. For me, they were essential in the construction of my music taste. Songs like “Like It, Love It, Need It,” “Mind’s Eye,” “Luv is a Verb,” “It’s Killing Me,” and “Jesus Freak” molded my affinity for rock and roll, showing me how diverse the genre could really be. But being a kid and seeing this music live is a whole different experience than being able to witness it today as an adult. Newsboys was always my particular favorite growing up; their live shows had a deep impact on me at a very young age. But seeing them live last year during their Newsboys United tour, and hearing songs that could potentially be even more important to me now than when I was seven years old, was indescribable. I think all DC Talk fans will experience this same feeling should a tour and a chance to be in the same room with such an incredible group arise.
Their reunion could open the door for Christian rock and alternative to fall into its own renaissance of sorts, and for me, that could be the most important reason for any of it. Artists that lost traction simply because the industry shifted its focus somewhere else could have an opportunity to reunite and feel a space has been made for them to try their hand at reaching people once again. I love Christian rock and alternative, so I desperately hope this happens. But for now, we sit and wait to see what Michael Tait, Kevin Max, and Toby Mac have in store for us.
Sharayah Franklin, Contributing Writer
I was a kid in the 90s and spent my teen years in the late 90s-early 2000s. DC Talk’s Jesus Freak was extremely popular, and I remember spending many days at church, since we were always there, listening to their music in KIDS Church and then youth group. We would play “Jesus Freak” incessantly until we could get the TobyMac rap part down. DC Talk was an integral part of the youth experience of this time because it was music that was beginning to resonate with them, and it seemed to be an even more definite shift in the tide of what Christian music was in that day and age. They opened up a genre of diversity and made music relevant to a wider audience than just what our parents’ were listening to.
As was said above, Michael Tait dropped hints in a recent interview that there might be a land tour in DC Talk’s future with some dates over the next three years. According to a video with TobyMac where he was interviewed by Heath Arthur, there are talks of a reunion tour, but nothing has been set in stone. I think with the success of two Jesus Freak Cruises and how much success the members of DC Talk have had solo, this could be a tour that would eclipse anything else we’ve seen in Christian music. I think it would open up conversations on the future of Christian music, and what needs to be done as it moves forward. Also, I think that a tour like this could be the melding of some greats– with TobyMac and his Diverse City Band, Newsboys United, and Kevin Max along with DC Talk headlining, it would be the show to see.
Some would say this could just be for nostalgic purposes, but I think the mission could be greater. Think about the generations this music has spanned. I think when I go to any of DC Talk members’ solo shows, the diversity and range of demographics I see there are astounding. This could be the culmination of music that needs to happen. The music that DC Talk brings and the messages in the songs are just as relevant today as they were 20+ years ago. I say that if the “Intermission” is truly over, it would be a welcomed thing.
Switchfoot’s Native Tongue tour stopped in Nashville on a rainy night in February. It was close enough to the beginning of the tour that everyone was a little giddy; after all, a year earlier, the future of Switchfoot had seemed deeply uncertain as they entered a hiatus. Now we had a brand new album and a chance to see them at the Ryman Auditorium, one of the most revered venues in the country. Every fan in line seemed to feel the gift of that reality.
I was feeling it in a deeply personal way as I slung a couple cameras around my neck and settled in to take some pictures. I had just begun a new round of medical testing and specialists, necessitated by growing concerns about my health. Two years of neurological problems had become partial blindness episodes, occasional partial paralysis, and the near constant present of lighting bolt webs of pain. I was filling out medical paperwork asking me questions like whether I had life insurance or a will. At 27 years old, these are not questions you’re prepared to be answering.
With those kinds of maybes hanging over my head, it seemed both impossible and yet earth-shatteringly necessary to engage the experience Switchfoot was presenting to us that night in Nashville. There is something about their music that strips reality down to its core, that reminds you who you are, reminds you what the world could be.
The night began the same way their new album does, with “Let it Happen” exploding into the room with its aching confession: “Let it happen, let it happen / I don’t hold what the future holds / But I know You’re my future.”
As Switchfoot intentionally interspersed songs new and old, “Voices” juxtaposed with “Meant to Live,” “Stars” making an appearances as well as “Dig New Streams,” it became increasingly clear that Native Tongue fits comfortably in their broader discography– it may be the band’s identity distilled into its purest form yet.
We live in a reality of breaking down, of loss, where the wildfires of this world can leave you wondering if there is any true beauty left. We live in a world of refugees, of untimely deaths, of fractured relationships– of uncomfortably staring disease in the face. Switchfoot has never denied that. The truth of it caught like a lump in my throat as I sang along with an acoustic rendition of “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine,” one of my favorite songs of all time. There is a pain that can get inside your bones.
But, their songs suggest, maybe there’s still something more. Look to the unity created in a room full of strangers singing and dancing to “Float” as a disco ball scatters flecks of light across their faces. Look to the wonder of Jerome Fontamillas celebrating his newly announced cancer free status. Look to the spontaneously cobbled together rendition of “Saltwater Heart” at the request of an audience member. There’s a truth beneath the decay. “I won’t let you go,” Jon Foreman sang, aligning his voice with the heart of the Maker. It was as if all the goodness of the world embraced the room to echo the same.
We climbed through the highs and lows of the songs with the band, with the audience, each note a stepping stone. To participate in a Switchfoot performance can be transformative; this one certainly was. I remembered that love, hope, grace, are all still the truest things– and I remembered it because they had taken on the trappings of lyric and melody, made real in the room. These are the stories redemption tells.
The main set culminated in “Dare You to Move,” a song that has chased me (and so many others) through well over a decade of life. I’ve heard it sung in deserted parking lots, unplugged in a tiny church, in open fields. That night, I heard it piercing into the valley of my own life as a divine invitation. Through my sickness, through the actual dread of death hanging around my spirit, the piercing words called me: “maybe redemption has stories to tell, maybe forgiveness is right where you fell. Where can you run to escape from yourself? Where you gonna go? Salvation is here.”
The encore ended with the same song Switchfoot always uses as a closer, another touchstone for the heart of who Switchfoot is: “Where I Belong.” The world of goodness and beauty that Switchfoot’s music seeks to uncover, to dig out of the heartache, is one we all collectively leaned into with the piercing longing of “Where I Belong.”
“And on that final day I die I want to hold my head up high I want to tell you that I tried To live it like a song.
And when I reach the other side I want to look you in the eye And know that I’ve arrived In a world where I belong.”
In the face of all the worst the world can throw at us, the temptation is to be motionless. When the death at work in our relationships and minds and our very breath and bones weighs down our spirits, it can pin us to the ground. Fear whispers that we’ll stay there, that all our actions are entropy, that maybe there is not even a better world to hope for.
A few times over the years I have been enjoying and covering music, I have attended concerts that felt more like a revelation. This one felt that way to me. It was light colliding with that deathly weight in my bones. It was the invitation I needed, the one that has chased me since I was just a kid, the hope that I believe will pursue me til the end of my days: “I dare you to move.”
I now know that my condition is not life-threatening. I do, however, have a chronic, degenerative neurological disease that doctors are still working to diagnose, a disease that will likely leave me with these symptoms steadily worsening for the rest of my life.
None of us know how many days we have left. I have been made keenly aware of that, and aware also that I could lose more physical functionality at any time. The witness of Switchfoot reminds me what matters in light of that kind of urgency. “I don’t hold what the future holds, but I know You’re my future.”
I entered into 2015 with a heavy heart, and like many other seasons in my life, Skillet’s music was something that helped me cope. Their most recent album “Rise” had released in June of 2013, and their single “Sick of It” was one of my favorite songs. I couldn’t really identify what it was that I was sick of most days, other than a collection of negative emotions that all ran together. But I found myself really looking forward to seeing Skillet on the Winter Jam Tour in Chicago.
Prior to Skillet’s performance, someone took the stage and talked about Holt International, a faith-based humanitarian organization and adoption agency. For $34 a month you could sponsor a child to ensure that they get food, clothing, school support, and more. That message lingered in the back of my mind as the night continued.
When Skillet began playing “Sick of It” my eyes were opened to something I hadn’t realized up until that point. Similar to scenes in their music video, I saw a word so clearly in my mind it was as if it was spray painted in front of me:
I had gone to Winter Jam because I wanted to feel good. I wanted to enjoy hearing some live music. I wanted to escape routine life. I wanted to feel something good for a change. Everything I wanted for for myself and not for a second did I think about how I could better another life that night.
I was amazed how quickly and strongly I was then convicted of being selfish during that song. I saw how consumed I was with myself and with things that had happened to me. I saw how much time I spent thinking about my feelings and ignoring others’. I was disgusted by it; I was sick of it!
I knew what it meant to take a stand against selfishness– I was being called to sponsor a couple children for the rest of that year. It was such a spontaneous thing, but it felt so good to be able to do.
I walked into Winter Jam only thinking about myself and what I needed that night to hold for me. I walked out holding my sponsorship packets of two Chinese children, genuinely happy that I could make a positive impact in their lives.
The song “Sick of It” has continued to challenge me and remind me that even when things feel completely overwhelming, we are not powerless to make a change.
Occasionally a tour lineup gets announced that makes you feel a little like you’re living in your own MySpace bulletins from 2008. Breaking Benjamin’s spring tour lineup was that for me, featuring support from Skillet, Underoath, and Fight the Fury (the newly launched side hustle for Skillet frontman John Cooper).
In many ways, the lineup seemed improbable: historically, Underoath has operated in a very different sonic lane than Breaking Benjamin or Skillet. Ten years ago, you probably never would have seen any of the three touring together, because Skillet was once primarily constrained to the Christian market.
But times have changed. Christian rock as an entity now exists almost entirely in the crossover space, a shift that Skillet has served as a frontrunner for since the days of their chart-dominating, double-platinum certified album Awake. Breaking Benjamin and Skillet have toured together now several times as a result. More recently, the rock landscape has changed further still, with “metalcore” bands getting grandfathered in increasingly to the hard rock genre. Bands like Memphis May Fire suddenly getting radio success on Mainstream Rock charts is one example of this. Underoath’s Erase Me single “Ihateit,” one of the mellowest cuts from the 2018 return album, also got traction in that format.
What is happening, in short, is consolidation, and rarely has that fact hit home as hard as when I looked at this lineup. Rock is not “cool” at present. The men in suits aren’t putting resources behind it. The result is that only the bands that already had legendary status, or the newer bands who are extremely adaptable, are surviving. The shrinking playing field sees bands that once existed comfortably in disparate subgenres suddenly coming together on the same bill. And while that speaks ominously of the challenges of rock in our current climate, tours like this one uncovered a vivid silver lining.
Fight the Fury kicked off the night with three tracks from their debut EP Still Breathing and one new track, “Soldier,” that we haven’t heard yet. John Cooper and Seth Morrison both displayed a side of their musicianship that we don’t usually see in Skillet, a raw ferocity that relied less on theater and more on flexing the muscles of heavy riffs and guttural screams. As a frontman, John Cooper has always held the crucial trait of legitimately enjoying every performance. That factor seemed amplified when presenting his passion project to an intrigued arena of listeners.
Out of all the bands on the lineup, I was most curious to see how Underoath would fit, especially given that they are still in the process of fully re-establishing themselves after a lengthy hiatus. If I had any doubts, they evaporated with the first ferocious riffs of “On My Teeth.” Underoath’s presence hit the arena like a tidal wave, consuming and relentless. I’d seen Underoath perform before in multiple different eras, and this was somehow the tightest I’d ever seen them. Every member seemed locked in to their purpose on stage, their role in the songs they were creating, whether they were throwbacks like “It’s A Dangerous Business…” or new tracks like “No Frame.”
One of the things that Underoath’s performance also impressed on me was their humility and work ethic. Lead singer Spencer Chamberlain seemed to fully recognize that the audience was from a corner of the rock world where Underoath has not yet proved themselves. He thanked them for giving Underoath a shot, offering praise to all the other bands on the bill. This is a band who has earned Grammy nominations and a Billboard #2 debut, not to mention the fact that they pioneered and defined an entire genre in the mid-2000s. But they understood the relationship they had to the audience in the room, never taking their attention for granted. I was as blown away by that as I was by the energy that carried them through even more mellow tracks like “Ihateit.”
By the time Skillet hit the stage, the audience was warmed up and ready for the flurry of riffs and barrage of lights accompanying “Feel Invincible.” Skillet plays to a wide array of audiences, and I always find it refreshing how consistent they are, whatever stage they’re on, in messaging and in musical excellence. “Whispers in the Dark” brought back nostalgia for listeners like me, while “Sick Of It” saw a roar of approval from rock radio listeners (encouraged by blasts from cryo canons strapped to John Cooper’s forearms).
With 23 years of experience, Skillet has nearly perfected the arena rock performance. With a multitude of moving parts, from raised platforms that Korey Cooper, Seth Morrison, and cellist Tate Olsen ride alternately on “Awake and Alive” to a raised drum platform that Jen Ledger smoothly transitioned on and off of for vocal solos, Skillet dials up the intensity well beyond the songs alone: they create an experience. And that experience is always marked by a sense of purpose and conviction, evident in the urgency of songs like “Hero,” “The Resistance,” and fan favorite “Rebirthing.”
It was almost hard to believe after Skillet left the stage that the headliner hadn’t even appeared yet. A restless crowd watched the crew drop a billowing white sheet over the stage. When the lights went out, there was a sense of collective breath being held– exhaled to scream along with the eerie opening melody of “Red Cold River.” The sheet dropped with the riffs, revealing plumes of pyro, silhouetting one of the most legendary acts in contemporary rock and roll.
Breaking Benjamin is the kind of rock band that has become a rarity in 2019. Despite the textured complexity of songs like “Breath,” “Blow Me Away,” and “Angels Fall,” Breaking Benjamin refuses to lean on tracks. Almost every sound in those songs was created live, proving the staggering skill of guitarists Jasen Rauch and Keith Wallen in particular. Frontman Benjamin Burnley seemed to effortlessly manage the seemingly impossible task of maintaining the same vocal ferocity captured in the studio, flexing his way through rumbling growls and searing melodies. Songs like “I Will Not Bow” left the audience breathless just trying to scream every word along.
There was also a disarming approachability to Breaking Benjamin’s set, a difficult thing to achieve for songs so intense. At multiple points, Benjamin Burnley left the stage to sing with fans in the audience– often children. In fact, for their encore of “Dear Agony” and “Diary of Jane,” Burnley spent a good 5-10 minutes on the arena floor, finding parents and their kids and bringing at least a dozen families on stage with them. There was something so refreshingly non-rockstar about the entire thing, a proof that Breaking Benjamin understands entirely that their songs stand on the shoulders of the entire rock community.
And indeed, the entire evening was a picture of the rock community at its very best. As I mentioned earlier, consolidation in the rock industry is real, and it has caused some unfortunate casualties. But it’s also caused magical moments in time like this. Not only was the lineup diverse in terms of where the bands were coming from musically– it was a picture of what happens when men and women of widely varying beliefs interact with respect and honor for each other.
Skillet is formed by members that are devoutly Christian, and John Cooper clearly but graciously spoke about his love for Jesus before the band launched into their hit “Hero.” Both Underoath and Breaking Benjamin are groups of men who hold a wide array of beliefs about life and spirituality. For some of them, their relationship to belief has been much-discussed and complex. But for that evening, they all shared a stage, repeatedly voicing praises for each other. Benjamin Burnley fondly recalled the first time he asked Skillet how on earth they ended up with their band name. John Cooper gushed about how exciting it was to tour with Underoath for the first time.
That attitude on stage was reflected throughout the entire room. People of all ages, all backgrounds, all beliefs, were able to join each other under one roof and enjoy music, enjoy songs that served as deeply personal common ground in their stories.
Rock in 2019 is a slippery place to stand. But Breaking Benjamin, Skillet, and Underoath proved what happens when we lock arms as a community and hold each other up instead of letting each other fall. What they effectively created was a picture for the potential of our era, a standard of unity to fight for– and to enjoy with all our hearts when it’s found.
For a full list of tour dates for each band, visit:
(Content Note: Mentions of suicide, self harm, and drug use.)
I was 11 or 12 years old when my brother introduced me to the song “Life is Beautiful” by Sixx: A.M. I was depressed and didn’t want to be alive anymore; I found solace in that song.
“Will you swear on your life that no one will cry at my funeral?”
There was a part of me that wanted to believe that life truly was beautiful, but I couldn’t see it. Instead, my brain twisted the lyrics into a suicide note. I imagined my mother crying at my funeral, but I didn’t want that. Instead, I wanted my family and friends to be happy and live fully, knowing I was free from the burden of life.
I was too naive to understand this song was actually written about Nikki Sixx’s recovery from a heroin addiction. But I was somehow old enough to be tired of life. It felt like I was dead inside and I hadn’t even made it to high school yet. However, the music made me feel as if I was somewhere in between life and death. I was drowning in a pool of melancholy, but it was okay. I could feel something.
“You can’t learn to tell the truth until you learn to lie.”
Around the same time I became enamored with “Life is Beautiful,” I wrote my first suicide note. I don’t really remember if it was originally meant as a suicide note, but it was concerning enough to my friends that it got back to my mother. She was upset, so I realized I couldn’t say anything about being depressed. And so the lies began.
I hid my self-loathing behind sarcasm and fake happiness. I began to self harm and hid that behind my sleeves. I hid inside myself for years; eventually I realized I was a shell of everything I could be. So I decided to tell the truth, thinly veiled within my own music and poetry.
“You can’t live until you die.”
Eventually, I found other music to fall in love with and “Life is Beautiful” fell out of my regular rotation. Until years later, when I noticed The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack in my recommended albums on Amazon. I bought it, and all of the feelings from when I was 12 flooded back.
Maybe I never developed a drug addiction; maybe I was never actually on the brink of death. But I lived inside of a suicidal mind for the majority of my youth. My brain felt like it was in a stare-down with death for years.
“Just open your eyes and see that life is beautiful.”
Listening to this anthem of my adolescence again at 19 and hearing something other than a musical suicide note was breathtaking. For the first time, I heard what Nikki Sixx was trying to say. I haven’t experienced nearly as much as he has, but I’ve experienced enough to understand.
Life is filled with pain and disappointment. You can shut it all out and be numb to everything, or you can face the hurt and enjoy the good experiences. There’s not a lot I know for sure, but I definitely know this: it was only after I spent years living as someone who was already dead that I began to realize how beautiful life really is.
Panic! At The Disco ran a countdown on one of multiple massive LCD screens, descending through the seconds until their set. The energy of roughly 16,000 people in the room—many of them teenagers—crackled tangible and electric in the air. Their voices sounded like the signals of individual satellites ascending into the dark towards the stadium’s roof, out of sync, until the final minute unified them: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
I was on the arena floor in the media area, two cameras slung over my shoulders, perfectly positioned to watch Brendon Urie jump from inside the stage onto its surface—like levitating. Like magic. And the crowd responded in kind, on their feet, in the air, instantly screaming the words back.
Later, I’d walk the venue floor, past rows and rows of listeners, to find my way up multiple flights of stairs to an upper level vantage point. I watched the room erupt with the optimistic radio smash hit “High Hopes.” I saw them brought down to rapturous attention with “Dying in LA” (a piece that saw Brendon Urie performing the song at an all-white piano, suspended in midair, traveling across the length of the arena). I witnessed a masterful cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” unite every generation, parents and their teenagers and the 20-somethings like myself in between, in a raucous sing along.
Panic! At The Disco’s showmanship is masterful. From the explosive fireworks that punctuated “Ready to Go” to the plumes of pyro perfectly timed with a ferocious live cover of “The Greatest Show,” every element is woven together to create an experience. At moments, it was like being immersed in a movie. A small strings and brass section created a refreshingly organic feel to big, arena-sized songs. Nicole Rowe and Mike Naran offered the perfect balance of personality and professionalism on bass and guitar. And then there’s Brendon—every inch of his posture a showman, channeling the Vegas vaudeville that raised him. He strutted and danced, occasionally descending below the stage’s surface as if to make a point before bursting back into the spotlight, cheekily soaring through effortless vocal runs that would leave most vocalists gasping.
The crowd was engaged at every moment of 25 songs and nearly 2 hours. For that matter, I was engaged. I was in the generation that first found Panic! when “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was the edgy emo anthem every MySpace kid was living for. I’ve watched Panic! At The Disco manage to somehow continue to capture the attention of each new generation, a progression of continued relevance that I’m sure is on some level calculated, yet never feels contrived.
Usually, I am drawn to the songs that reveal something deep about the world, that go beneath the surface. Rock has always been a socially conscious genre, from the scathing commentary of early U2 to earnest current acts like Rise Against. Spirituality finds a natural home in the genre for that reason.
But Panic! At The Disco does not fall into that category. Their songs often feature your standard party content that will not be for everyone reading this. So what is it about them and their music that have been so resonate for over a decade now?
As I watched an arena full of listeners passionately singing along, often abandoning their phones for long periods of time, intensely connected to each other through the songs, I felt a slow-dawning realization: the resonance is joy.
The curtain of 2019 has opened on a world deeply, painfully divided, politically, relationally, ideologically. The issues that are being discussed are important, make no mistake. But the digital age and the non-stop access to these life and death conversations becomes exhausting on a soul level. I see the word “compassion fatigue” more and more frequently. The pursuit of truth and beauty is certainly worth enduring for. But there is a bone-deep weariness that comes with being asked to bear the weight of empathy for a perpetual onslaught of tragedies, the worst of human experience exposed and available to us 24/7. Teenagers coming of age now are the first to have spent their entire life in a world where to-the-minute updates on the latest human rights atrocities are literally streamed into their consciousness.
In a world like that, maybe something to simply enjoy is no small thing. The art of joy, of delight, becomes something spiritual in and of itself. There is a gift in having spaces to let go of the weight we carry, to rally ourselves, to sing a hopeful song, before facing the hard conversations again. Maybe even trying (and failing) to sing along with Brendon Urie’s ridiculous falsetto is an act of pushing back against the belief that tragedy is all there is.
“Feel good” anthems become something more in times like these. They become a powerful affirmation of all the living we are invited to do, even in the face of the dark.
“Had to have high, high hopes for a living Didn’t know how but I always had a feeling I was gonna be that one in a million Always had high, high hopes.”
After “Victorious” finished the evening with a flash of confetti, I left the Pray for the Wicked tour smiling, surrounded by others who were doing the same.