Averyfineline goes to the Frontlines: The Crabb Family
Location: Bonne Terre, Mo.
Setting: North County High School auditorium
Occasion: Leadbelt Pentecostal Church event
Average age guesstimate: 42 (!)
Opening acts: Two local church groups: Patterson Family (a mixed trio that had the baldfaced temerity to do a song, “Echo of Tears,” that was exactly the same melody as Gerald Crabb’s “Trail of Tears” … it’s hard to imagine the group wouldn’t have known about the similarities … where did these lyrics and this title come from? Gerald Crabb? Really?); and Fresh Anointing (the church’s praise and worship band, by all appearances and sounds)
Attendance: ca 500ish (the place was snuggly full)
After forty-five (yes that’s 45) minutes of local acts at an ear-splitting volume (note to sound man: bad music doesn’t get better if you make it louder), the Crabbs came on and delivered one hour and fifteen minutes - almost to the second - of mostly fast-paced, downright, holy rolling music. The first tune of the evening is “Promised Land,” and though the emcee (the church pastor, I gather) jumped the gun on his intro and forced the Crabbs to kick things off sooner than they would have liked, the family takes it in stride - indeed, this is one of the intense pleasures of watching Professionals at work: nothing rattles them, no time-killing humor to awkwadly defuse the group’s inability to get off the blocks without proper footing. They seem incapable of being nonplussed at anything. They perform, in a word, with authority. “Promised Land” is virtually all band in the house mix and the vocals struggle to rise to the top, but it really doesn’t matter, because soon enough we’re well into “I Know My Keeper,” which features Aaron Crabb (the non-harmonica-playing twin), whose voice has noticeably improved since those first days of heady fame for the Crabbs, when both of the twins were mostly all histrionics and weak IAG singing). It’s a little difficult, still, to hear his and the rest of the vocals over the band, which just throbs mercilessly all evening. Indeed, the vocals never really get mixed into the sound as adequately as I, sitting in the back row, would like. But I decide to count this no loss, since by every evidence so far, adequate vocals from this sound guy would probably mean a louder set, and the volume is near even my generous threshold for tolerability as it is.
Anyway, before I know, it’s on to “Greater is He” and the set really begins … the throbbing instrumentals are perfect for this 100-yard-dash of a song, and the place is on its feet, thoroughly enthralled. “Travelin’ On” gives way to “The Cross,” and my only response is a big, unstoppable smile. There are moments in gospel music when a live performance distills things to their essence, burns away the superfluous and filters the ancillary, secondary stuff out - leaving nothing but a kind of intense sensation that defies effective description in words and exists at a more ethereal level of feelings sharpened by spiritual intensity. The sg jargon for this is glory bumps, but I prefer to imagine that this is what redemption would feel like if it were just poured all over a person. “The Cross” is the occasion of just such a moment tonight. Jason Crabb carefully tends to this important few minutes, effortlessly interleaving a bit of “The Old Rugged Cross” into the reprise of “The Cross.” The emotional pitch of this interlude sets up “He Came Lookin’ For Me,” and the song’s up-tempo gait creates an absolutely irresistible enthusiasm that spreads through the whole place, giving expression to what I imagine is the room-wide urge to run somewhere. It’s easy to forget, in these kinds of rollicking segments of the set - what with all the hands waving and the crowd shouting and the sound just slamming you in the face relentlessly - that this spiritually carnivalesque atmosphere requires skillful cultivation, mostly the work of Jason Crabb tonight. He stands at the far right of the stage, often practically in the shadows (not the place you’d expect the leader, in every sense of the term, to be), so that when he steps into the foot lights - as he does on “The Cross” and “He Came Lookin’” - it has the effect of a conductor stepping up to command an orchestra, or (more accurately) a young patriarch emerging like Joshua from the shadow of Abraham to lead a tribe (Abraham, that’d be Gerald Crabb if you’re keeping score at home, may not be here in person tonight, but he is everywhere in the set by virtue of his songwriting and his progeny, and the tribal image is reinforced by the stage itself, which just seems tribally full of Crabb Family members, Crabb Family musicians, Crabb Family stuff … one in fact imagines the Crabbs wandering across the wilderness in that caravan of garish buses reporting back to headquarters on the prospects of the land as it appears from the sg stage). Jason Crabb’s command, as a singer and no less as a showman, is complete. He crafts a unified musical experience that picks you up and carries you along in its irrepressible sweep.
Which is why I don’t really mind so much the duds like “Sacrifice of Praise,” a song way too reminiscent of the tonal staleness and lyrical redundancy that marked Fresh Anointing in the far-too-generous opening portions of the show. This is the kind of tune that unfortunately reminds us what it was like early on with the Crabbs … too much screaming and carrying on, not enough substance and too little organization. Perhaps the sound guy felt this too, felt he needed to do something, because though I didn’t think it was possible, the set gets louder on this tune, if not better. Thankfully, a harmonica solo is next. I say thankfully not because I like the harmonica. In fact, if I had three or even two wishes, one of them would be to banish the harmonica from the face of the earth and the whole of eternity. But Adam Crabb’s time to shine does lessen the chances of inner ear damage I was fearing during the few final seconds of “Sacrifice.” The solo is a cheesy rendition of … wait for it … “Amazing Grace,” backed up by keyboardist Justin Ellis on a stringy synthesizer - “string cheese,” I chuckle to myself, and the little girl next to me whips her head around and gives me the most withering look of condemnation I have seen in a while. No more chuckling from me. Anyway, the Crabbs shift gears at this point. Everyone, guitarists included, take a seat on stools for a truncated “Please Forgive Me,” and it gives me time to puzzle again over the vocals in the house mix. I just don’t hear five voices, even when all five kids appear to be singing. Hmmmm. I also note to myself that this is the part where the Crabbs really have to begin to work. This thoroughly Pentecostal crowd has been with the family even before they took the stage … the Crabbs coulda sung serial numbers off the cars in the parking lot - and there were a lot of them, because a high school basketball game was underway at the adjacent gymnasium - and this audience would have had a spell in the spirit all the same. But now that things are slowed down, there’s less emotionalism and flamboyance, less chance of those contagious waves of worship that have been rolling through the auditorium thus far. But nobody misses a beat, on or off stage. And pretty soon we’re back up and going again. “Soldier on his Knees” segues to “Through the Fire,” at which we the emotional center of the evening arrives.
Aaron Crabb has tried his hand at some extemporaneous sermonizing a bit earlier, and it goes off pretty well with this crowd (for my part, though, Aaron’s preaching is bit too much like Jim Hammil’s old set pieces that began with a variation on “when the storms of life rage round about you and you’re tossed on the sea of despair …”). But it’s Jason that really lights into a stemwinder of a sermon in the middle of “Through the Fire” … it has the high shine of regular practice to it, and it’s impossible not to sense how at ease and at home Crabb is among this particular type of audience. Looking around me at the hair buns and make-up-less faces, the long skirts, the almost-missionary zeal in the eyes of the younger guys (not the typical sullenness and punkish bravado of most young, rural males these days), I realize that this is a perfect storm of an sg moment: here’s the one segment of evangelical Christianity - Pentecostalism - that’s growing, excited and enthusiastic about the future of the Christian enterprise, in contrast to the stagnant attendance in most denominations and the political toxicity contaminating so much of the rest of evangelicalism today. And these Christians are here for the most exciting gospel act around right now. I have a tingly moment of my own in which I gloat a little to myself (no chuckling though … that little girl is still hawk-eyeing me, unsure if I may be trusted even yet), because I feel like this auditorium, this evening is confirmation of my hypothesis a few weeks back about the direction of sg’s newest generation of fans. I said they tend to be Pentecostal (as opposed to previous generations of stalwart sg fans who were largely Baptists), and here was a room full of hundreds of Pentecostals, many of them teens, twentysomethings and young couples with kids trying to raise the roof when they weren’t out buying Crabb product all night long (it didn’t hurt the Crabbs were selling any three cd/dvd combination you want for $30). So under these wildfire conditions, “Dontcha Wanna Go” just set the place ablaze straight through to the end of the evening, two songs later. By that time, my ears are aching, literally, but I don’t much care and neither does anyone around me as far as I can tell (and this includes people my grandparents’ age as well as my little girl chaperone). I sneak out before the press of bodies at the doors becomes to much. As I leave, I see the Crabb caravan idling contentedly off in one corner of the lot (facing the highway, not coincidentally) … waiting patiently to carry these gospel itinerants to the next stand, the next night, to the next musical bonfire. Dontcha wanna go .. go .. yes I wanna go .. go .. go …Email this Post