When I was going through my “Doors Period” like every red-blooded American teen who’s a fan of music is expected to go through, I did much more than just listen to the tunes of Jim and the boys. I read his poetry, watched old footage, and read every book about them I could find. I remember hearing constantly people describing a Doors concert experience as a “religious experience”. Their guitarist even described it this way saying, “It was a religious experience between us and the audience. We were all together. This sounds ridiculous, but we were all together, the audience and us. They just went crazy. Everybody was together – that was it. It was an incredible feeling of community.”
At the time this intrigued me, but I sure didn’t understand it. In my mind I pictured a bunch of stinky hippies passing a joint, along with a communion plate, singing “How Great Thou Art” after “Light My Fire”. That was as far as I could grasp this idea of “religious experience” at a rock and roll show. I loved the way it sounded, but just wasn’t sure what it meant. Fast forward 20 or so years. I think I can get it now. At least, I can a little. I’ve had a few of those experiences where I was at a show, and the crowd was singing in one voice, the band was passionately pouring out their emotions and it felt like we were all melding into one. It felt like something big was happening. It was as if I’d lost my personal identity and instead had morphed into some bigger existence…one of collective mind, heart, soul and love. Does that make ANY sense? If so, I think THIS was what was meant by the concert as a “religious experience”. I’ve experienced it a few times. Pearl Jam took me there 1st. U2 grooved me through it. Mumford & Sons drove it home. This past week, Wilco lit the fires again!
It was my first chance to see Wilco live. I’ve been a fan since I heard first “Box Full of Letters” in college many years ago. I’ve followed them from varying distances throughout the years. I’ve listened as they’ve grown, expanded and explored. I’ve been fascinated with their lyrics and the relationship they have with the music industry as a whole and with their fans. But, I’d never gotten to see them live.
So last week, at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, I finally got that chance. It did NOT disappoint. Mr. Tweedy and the boys came out and immediately went to work. There was so much to take in. The light show and simple yet lovely stage set was wonderful. The sound was mixed so clean. Jeff was singing with incredible clarity. Guitarist Nels Cline is a freak of nature the way he plays. His passion is so intense that you almost feel you’re viewing an intimate moment between a man and his lover that was not meant for your eyes. The glue of the band in my opinion, bassist John Stirratt was laying down incredibly heavy grooves and harmonic vocals. Everyone else was playing with fervor and passion. It was something special.
So why could I say that it almost felt “religious”? There are many factors involved. The show itself had a ceremonial feeling. The crowd is there and reacting in a reverent, and almost subjective manner. All of the fans in attendance acted like a “good congregation” and respected tradition as well as new material. We responded appropriately when we needed. We laughed at his “is pot legal in CO because it sure smells legal” joke (and boy did it smell VERY legal). We clapped when we were supposed to and whistled when it was our turn. We sang loudly when called upon. It felt like another place I go on Sundays ☺. Everyone was singing together, moving together. It was TOGETHER.
Jeff Tweedy himself has even felt this, once saying “I just find the communal experience of a rock concert, or any type of music performance, achieves a kind of transcendence that I associate with spirituality. It’s the closest thing to what I think people expect church to be like. Or maybe just what I’ve always thought church should be. It’s as close to it as I feel like I’ve gotten. You lose yourself, and at the same time come to the realization or understanding that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s the main function of religion, in my mind.”
Towards the end of the night they played one of my favorites “A Shot in the Arm”. As the crowd and band found themselves screaming together “that maybe all we needed was a shot in the arm”, I got goose bumps. I’m not sure what this song is truly about. You could make an argument for heroin addiction. You could say it’s about an addictive, destructive love. Regardless, NO ONE could say it is not passionate. It was powerful! Something special was happening.
At that moment I felt like I was part of something bigger. God has created every one of us in his image. And we can live together, love together, create together and make beauty. God is in the whispers of all beauty. I truly believe this. And I think he can even be found in a beer soaked and smoke filled ballroom in Denver Colorado. I look forward to church this week……..