Last Friday night, with a 13-year-old son who likes such music, I attended my first rock concert, a student activities event at Campbell University headlined by a group called “Skillet.” It was quite an experience, one that I can call on for comfort the next time I’m stuck in a dentist’s chair.
When hard rock and “metal” came on the scene in the 1970s and 80s, the genre had no appeal to me, and that hasn’t changed: I prefer visual art that I can identify, and music that has a melody.
The night started out poorly when I didn’t get the memo about the dress code. I thought I was “dressing down” by leaving off the tie. As it turned out, not only was I the only person in the arena wearing a sport coat; if it hadn’t been for a small handful of uniformed deputies, I’d have been the only one in the building wearing a collared shirt.
When “The Letter Black” began the concert (an hour and a half after the doors opened — another memo I didn’t get), the floor started to quiver, and my chair felt like one of those old hotel beds that would vibrate when you put a quarter in the slot. At least I got a massage out of the deal. All I could hear from the band was a pounding bass and the drums. The lead guitarist could have been pantomiming for all I knew, as I couldn’t hear a note of his contributions. I never understood a single word. The band bounced a lot as they sang.
Before the second act (“Red“) came on, roadies set up three metal coffee tables so the band could jump up and down on them while performing. While singing, they would snap their heads forward at great speed. The lead singer was bald and I wondered if he’d shaken his hair off. Many in the audience followed suit, doing forward neck snaps coordinated with raised fist pumps. I presume this is “headbanging,” which I’d heard of but not seen up close. If I tried such a thing, I’d be paralyzed. My prefontal cortext has enough issues without my slamming it against the front of my skull, and my inner ears would surely not survive. That can’t be good for you.
Red had a dress code, but I never quite figured it out. They had white banners (with red designs) on one side of the stage, and black banners (with the same red design) on the other. Three of the band members wore all black (like every other performer that night), but the bass player wore all white. I don’t think they were portraying good and evil, unless they think the odds are stacked against good. Maybe they were acting out the answer to the old riddle, “What’s black and white and red all over?”
I didn’t understand any words in their songs, either: for inspiration, I might as well have been standing behind a jet engine.
Before Skillet came on, roadies replaced the three coffee tables with two polished steel boxes as jumping platforms, and they unveiled a built-up stage for the drummer and other musicians who occasionally ran up and down, sometimes perching on elevating platforms that rose into the air as smoke pillars billowed about. The band included a very theatrical duo who could headbang, jump, and pirouette while playing violin and cello, but they were completed drowned out by the driving beat of the bass and drums: I couldn’t be sure they were really playing until each got to do a very brief solo turn during the encore. The drummer was a blond woman who appeared to be quite talented. She flailed like a maniac and appeared capable of beating a bear to a bloody pulp with her flying drumsticks.
With the exception of one acoustic “power ballad” in which I picked up an occasional phrase, the words were again unintelligible (whatever happened to PowerPoint?). I guess you have to be a fan and go online to read the lyrics in order to know what the bands are saying. The only thing I understood clearly was the frontman’s thrice-repeated “Are you ready to get crazy?” My response was lost amid the shouts of those who jumped and shouted in the affirmative.
I am told that all of the bands fall into the category of “Christian hard rock,” and I’ll take their word for it: I didn’t hear any cussing between songs, and none of the men or women wore revealing clothes or undulated suggestively. Since I couldn’t understand any of the lyrics, I’ll trust that they had some faith-based content. Skillet, it turns out, was nominated for six Dove Awards, and in last night’s ceremonies they won the award for best song, “Comatose.” I don’t know if they sang that number during the concert or not, given that I couldn’t pick out any words and was well on the way to being oscillated into a coma of my own.
I’m glad other folks do find the music appealing: most of the audience was jumping, fist-pumping, and headbanging for most of the night. Samuel was more subdued, though he did activate the Zippo lighter app on his iPod touch and waved it back and forth. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the Holy Spirit or the pounding beat that inspired the crowd, but fortunately, it’s not mine to judge. Whether high on Jesus or the seismic sonics, the audience appeared to have gotten lots of exercise and had a good time without the benefit of alcohol, drugs, or casual sex, and there’s something to be said for that.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.