jars of clay

Blame the Blackberry and take my word for it, that’s Jars of Clay captured in the muddled blackness.

The strangest addition to my bucket list of concerts was finally scratched off last Thursday night as I saw long-time Christian rockers Jars of Clay in the friendly confines of the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. Snark it up if you want, but these guys have been my one foothold in the world of CCM for years. It goes back to the MLS Championship game of 1997 when the recap of the inaugural rain-soaked match was accompanied by a thematically appropriate, guitar-driven pop song

Flood was the first, and over the next 13 years, I’ve never lost that soft spot in my heart for the flannel-wearing boys. With each release, Jars of Clay rarely broke new musical ground, but they did provide a solid, hook-filled journey into the stories and trials of a few artists trying to navigate the implications and realities of their Christian faith.

And there have been some great songs on the way.

More southern diner than rock club, with long tables and quiet corners, The Birchmere offers the best acoustics and one of the most intimate live shows in the Northern Virginia area. By the time that Sharmen (minor celeb couple, shh shh), Scotland and I made our way inside, the wine was flowing and the room was packed out. It’s not the most rock and roll of spaces—folk fits the aesthetic a bit easier—but there were those who were not going to let the seats slow down

Prejudging a band based on their Northern Virginia fans isn’t the kindest thing to do, but those eight people whose seats couldn’t contain them kept me entertained. Out on the main floor, they stood up, waved their arms, bopped their head and answered Dan Hasseltine’s question, “Are You Ready to Rock Alexandria?” proudly in the affirmative. Then was the older woman a few tables back, who kept her eyes, closed and sang along to every song. But the best character had to be the woman holding a glass of white in her manicured fingers who would levitate her entire body out of the chair, everytime Hasseltine pronounced the line, “lift me up.”

Awkward audience members come at all shows.

But the music was anything but strange. Jars of Clay has grown up over the years. No longer making elegant rock from their dorm room, the quartet seems to be feeling the weight of their status as father and Christian musical icons.That especially comes out in the sweet lullabye, “Boys (Lesson One)”

Hasseltine talked in quiet soft tones about the need for Christians to stay involved in Haiti and the idiocy of Pat Robertson. There were the en-vogue terms about storytelling, and about asking yourself how your story fit into the story of Africa. It might come off a little heavy from time to time, but the simple sincerity and care that Jars of Clay shows can’t be denied. Call Hasseltine the Bono of the world formerly known as CCM, and you wouldn’t be far off.

I haven’t heard the new album , so the 9 tracks that made an appearance through the show served as a listening party for me. There’s an electronic-tinge to the new tunes that translates well, it’s smoother and a bit more produced, but a sound that still kicks pretty hard. Jars of Clay can still hit the cues; they’re incredibly talented musicians that weave beautiful harmonies, killer hooks and a sound that filled up the small room. The old songs got tuned up. Frail turned into this swelling, distorted composition dabbling on the side of post-rock, Liquid was just as raw, and Love Song for a Savior can still bring tears.

David asked if Jars should be giving us, “some kind of challenge,” and while there wasn’t much in the way of surprises throughout the show, there weren’t too many false notes either. These musicians  have transitioned into the role of fathers and social activists. Though they don’t push the musical envelope, they push other things.

I might not be reaching for their albums as often, but these childhood heroes aren’t falling just yet.

Check Blood Water Mission

…and an old favorite


About The Author

Nathan Martin

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