Jars of Clay

Stepping Beyond Stodgy

By Victoria Moon

Maybe there was some explainable reason for the sound problems that ran all through the Jars of Clay show at Louisville Gardens on Saturday, August 10th. I certainly hope so. But the relentless scream of guitar feedback, the over-miked drums and too-quiet vocals did nothing to enhance otherwise good performances.

The show, which was supposed to be opened by up-and-coming band Three Crosses was instead opened by Sarah Masen, a singer/songwriter from Detroit who was recently signed to Charlie Peacock's new label, re:think. Sarah, coming out with just an acoustic guitar, was a diminutive presence onstage, but powerful, with a clear, unusual voice.

Her songs are quirky, personal studies of the Christian life, and she is one of CCM's brightest new talents, but her vocals were lost in the horrible mix and she was frozen to one spot onstage due to distressful-sounding feedback pouring out of the speakers if she even tried to move. The audience's incessant roaring through her set as they showed their obvious preference for Jars of Clay was also no help to those of us trying to hear a great new songwriter. Not trying to be a grouch, here, people, but I've seen audiences waiting to see Iggy Pop and the Ramones who were way more respectful of talent than this bunch of impatient church youth groups. Maybe this is just proof that CCM has to move in a more artistic and original direction, if only to broaden CCM listeners' tastes so that they can appreciate the new and different. (Okay, I'm stepping off my soapbox. Back to the review.)

After a short intermission, Jars of Clay came out to a stage lit by candelabras, and filled with the sounds of Gregorian chants. The sound problems unfortunately continued, leading to a curious mix of ear-bleeding drums and mumble-quiet vocals, but the band was good enough to make me almost forget about the technical problems.

Lead singer Dan Hasseltine is a confident presence onstage, and could get the audience on their feet dancing or listening, blessedly, in hushed silence while he introduced a song he had written about child abuse. One of the evening's highlights was a tongue-in-cheek number rife with moody harmonies, written in praise of coffee and complete with cappuccino-maker sound effects.

The band had most of the audience on their feet with their renditions of their hit songs "Flood" and "Love Song for a Savior," and finished the show with an encore that included a great instrumental jam that went on for several minutes. Other than the inability to hear the lyrics due to those ubiquitous sound problems, the concert showcased some of CCM's best new talent, artists taking the too-often stodgy world of CCM a step farther, and infusing it with some originality and art.