The List

It was a hot summer night in July of ’05

Eyes blinded by dramatic strobe lights and long-beheld famous sights

Ears deafened by bombastic drums and nose clouded by smells of cannabis and rum

The Rush was such an intense elation that I never wanted to end

So I sought to relive it, this little high of mine,…over and over again.

In 8th grade, I made a list of the top 10 bands I wanted to see in concert before I die. Three years later, I added another 5 based on my newly found faith. Though I have seen many other bands not on that list (63 bands total at 44 different concerts, excluding opening acts) these 15 were the core bands that I absolutely had to see, regardless of cost or location. Well after 10 years and nearly two grand, I can finally retire my list and move on.

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The list commenced with perhaps my favorite show to date: The Subways, Head Automatica, Angels & Airwaves, and Taking Back Sunday at the Embarcadero Park in San Diego. I got to listen to the bands sound check while enjoying Seaport Village, got in my first moshpit, and had perfect seats. My family had a hotel room along the bay and it was just a perfect day.

The last concert was just a few days ago in Miami: Third Eye Blind and Dashboard Confessional. From listening to the bands sound check while enjoying downtown Miami, to having perfect seats again, and staying with my wife in a hotel along the bay, the voices of familiarity rang out, yet differing.

In the ten years since I started that list, a lot has happened. Mostly three things: I became a Christian, I moved to Florida, and I got married. Through all of those major life changes, I began to see how my identity should not be caught up in the sights and sounds of alternative rock music, but rather in the Author and Composer of life itself, Jesus Christ.

This helped me to see concerts for what they were: moments. They were moments in life that are now treasured memories; they allowed us to proclaim what we valued most at the time. In other words, they are worshipful. But where as before I sought them as a means to escaping life and feeling high on music (worshipping the self), I now see them as opportunities to enjoy the God who created music and orchestrates all of life.

Angels & Airwaves at Embarcadero Park, July 23, 2006.
Angels & Airwaves at Embarcadero Park, July 23, 2006.

How did I get to this point? One pattern I noticed was that the best bands I saw were the ones that pointed to something bigger than themselves. These grandiose themes of love & war (Angels & Airwaves), life & death (My Chemical Romance) order & chaos (Muse), left me with something to think about once the show was over and the high receded. As I’ve said before, the best art both stimulates thought and engages emotions, and a handful of shows I saw did just that, leaving an imprint on me as a young man.

But there was this one moment, when I saw Hillsong United in 2011, where for the first time ever, the crowd was singing louder than the band itself, declaring the majesties of Christ in unity. The only problem is at first, I could barely hear. For the first half of the show, my eardrums were plugged, and I was so frustrated (I might have been getting sick, but it’s hard to explain). Then suddenly, in the middle of “Aftermath,” my ears opened up, I could hear clearly again at the words, “I know You’re with me here.” It’s as if God was filling me anew with His presence, leaving me in tears. It was a heavenly experience, leaving me much to ponder weeks after the show.

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Hillsong United at the Staples Center, Match 1, 2011.

From that moment on, concerts changed for me. They became less about me trying to feel good about myself, and more about becoming united unto something larger than myself. This is when I suddenly realized how concerts are truly an act of worship, regardless of what is being sung about. We all want to belong, and concerts bring us into a place of belonging. Whether it’s with other Christians at a Gungor show, with your fellow man at a 30 Seconds To Mars concert, or with emo-Christian-teenagers-now-grown-up belting all the lyrics to MMHMM, we are all apart of a community that ascribes worth to something.

So what’s next? I plan on taking a break from rock concerts, at least for a little while, and venture into seeing a symphony or some live jazz. The high I sought after was met, not by completing the list, but by finding my identity in Christ and unity with others.

Echoing the words of Dashboard Confessional in their final song of the show, I can fondly look back at each of my concert experiences and say, “Hands down this is the best day I can ever remember.”

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