Bizarre Twin Bill: Twila Paris, Phil Keaggy

By Robert Gruber

Potter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington was the scene of perhaps this concert season's most bizarre billing: Twila Paris and band, with Phil Keaggy opening solo. While both artists are veterans of contemporary Christian music, their styles are quite different from one another, as was evidenced this night.

Opening the March 21 evening was a short set from Chris Eaton, a new artist on Sparrow Records (sadly, I arrived just after his set had ended).

Then Phil Keaggy came out with just his guitar, a small rack of effects; and a handful of new songs. Keaggy was in rare form, wowing the crowd with his unbelievable musical abilities and keeping them in stitches with his zany, pun-heavy wit. For pure, spontaneous invention, I don't think there s anyone in the entire music industry, Christian or secular, who comes close to touching Phil Keaggy on guitar. Watching him play is like seeing one of the masters — Segovia comes to mind. Every show is unique (and for that legion of misguided souls who spend so much time and energy trundling about after a hack like Jerry Garcia, Phil Keaggy is far and away a better guitarist to follow). When his time was up, it was apparent that Keaggy didn't want to quit — he's normally only getting warmed up after an hour.

Twila Paris took the stage shortly afterward with a well-rehearsed but poorly paced show of her beautiful original songs. As a unit, her band was tight and polished and the extravagant lighting provided big show' atmosphere. There was far too much bombast though and not enough low-key worshipful moments — when she'd do a slow, quiet song, it would be followed right away by a big loud one, breaking the mood. Her singing, however, was magnificent and she was blessed with a good mix for most of the evening. She chose a varied, crowd-pleasing selection of songs, including "God Is In Control," "Destiny" and a medley of her classic hymns, "We Will Glorify" and "He Is Exalted. "

In an age when so many CCM artists tour with a tape deck and a box of DATs, Twila Paris is to be commended for using a full band on the road. It is undoubtedly a tremendous undertaking. Next time out, though, she should take a few cues from Phil Keaggy and keep it simpler – maybe do an "unplugged" tour with just piano, percussion and acoustics. There were enough shining moments in Lexington that night, though, to show why Paris is considered one of Christian music's finest artists.

(The show was sponsored in part by World Vision, a Christian hunger relief organization and Youth With A Mission). I