WHAT WOULD JESUS LISTEN TO?Not long ago in these pages, we published an article by Annie Holub, about the band Mute Math. In the article, the group's singer, Paul Meany, complained about how Warner Bros., the band's current label, was attempting to market Mute Math as a Christian band, after someone at the label learned that Meany's former band was a Christian band.
In the article, Meany said, "I used to be in a very overt Christian band, and I think once we started Mute Math, and there were spiritual undertones in the music--and we'll openly state, yeah, we're Christian--we watched how the Christian division of Warner Bros. just ran with it. And they ran with it faster than Warner Bros. ran with it in the general market."
Since we published that article, Mute Math has filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., claiming breach of contract and negligent representation, because Warner intended to release the band's latest album on Word, its Christian imprint, which had previously released an EP by the band. Never mind the fact that Mute Math built their fan base by touring with Christian band Mae, and by playing in Christian music festivals. "We're a normal band here; we're not trying to be the Christian version of a real band," Meany said in the Weekly article. (Meanwhile, the band has managed to alienate mainstream music buyers who flee at the mention of the term "Christian rock," while also pissing off Christian music fans who feel betrayed. "It's not Christian to file a lawsuit," one poster on a Christian music Web site wrote.)
Which raises the question: What exactly is a Christian band? Is a band a Christian band if its members are Christian, or must the music itself address Christian issues--or contain, in Meany's words, "spiritual undertones"? And how much of what determines whether or not a band is a Christian band depends on the way it's marketed? The Christian music market is a large one, but it's certainly no match for the kinds of sales a band can have if it reaches mainstream success. Are the labels trying to have it both ways, marketing these bands to the Christian market while attempting to downplay the religious aspect to mainstream music buyers, in order to maximize a band's sales?
Take a look at the lengthy press kit for San Diego's Switchfoot, a multiplatinum-selling Christian band that records for Columbia Records, and you've got to dig awfully deep before you come across any mention of religion at all. And when you do, the first mention is a quote from frontman Jon Foreman which reads, "There's this moment in Jewish scripture, in Ecclesiastes, where it says, 'Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.' That's the place where our new record starts." Any acknowledgement that Switchfoot is indeed a Christian band doesn't come until well into the bio. Instead, you'll find loads of quotes about the band's "high-voltage buzz-saw riffs and irresistible melodic hooks," and their "gift for delivering hard-charging rock anthems with a lyrical depth and musical integrity that should sustain a long, successful career." And, to be fair, I'd have to agree with those statements.
Switchfoot's latest album, Nothing Is Sound (Columbia, 2005), is loaded with hooky anthems that are almost guaranteed to find a home on mainstream modern rock radio and sell millions of copies of the disc. But I have to wonder how many of those copies will end up in the hands of Christian music fans, and how many will find a home with music fans who have no idea--and maybe don't even care--that Switchfoot is a Christian rock band. To use Mute Math's Meany's term, Switchfoot's music used to be far more "overtly" Christian than its latest album is. All of which brings us back to the question: What exactly is a Christian rock band? The answer, it seems, is awfully complicated.
Switchfoot performs an all-ages show at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., on Friday, March 17. Athlete opens at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $20 at the venue's box office. They'll be $22 on the day of the show. For more information, call 740-1000.
CRUSADING ENERGYOn Crusades (Frenchkiss, 2005), Minneapolis' The Plastic Constellations prove that post-punk and anthemic rock are not mutually exclusive. The album consistently utilizes dizzyingly spiraling fretwork, pummeling drums, near-funky basslines and soaring melodies to arrive at what has been compared to a collision of Les Savy Fav and At the Drive-In. In the process, they've made fans of everyone from Pitchfork, who gave their previous album, Mazatlan (2024, 2004), an 8.5 rating, and Atmosphere's Slug, who said of his fellow Minneapolitans, "This city is not big enough to hold their energy." As evidenced by Crusades, they're the rare band that manages to be simultaneously atonal and melodic, somehow coaxing danceable grooves out of complicated rhythms.
The Plastic Constellations perform at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Sunday, March 19. The Diagonals and Tenderbox open at 9 p.m. Cover is $5 Call 622-3535 for further details.
Denmark's HorrorPops specialize in a slightly bizarre amalgam that somehow manages to work: the staccato rhythms of psychobilly (guitarist Kim Nekroman is a member of Nekromantix, and husband to singer-bassist Patricia Day), the goth leanings of Siouxsie and the Banshees, and a decidedly retro new-wave element that borrows liberally from '80s bands such as Missing Persons. Their latest album, Bring It On!, was released last year by Hellcat Records, a division of Epitaph.
Sharing the bill are The Tossers and Tucson psychobilly-influenced punks Demon City Wreckers, who last week opened for Tiger Army in Phoenix, and whose latest album, Inner Demons, was recently released by San Antonio label Hairball8.
This all-ages show hits Skrappy's, 201 E. Broadway Blvd., at 7 p.m. next Thursday, March 23. Admission is $10. For more info, call 358-4287.
YOU DROPPED A BOMB ON MEAfter winning three Grammys in as many years for their last three albums, Blind Boys of Alabama hit town this week in support of their latest, Atom Bomb (Real World), which was released earlier this week. While Atom Bomb is still firmly rooted in the soul-gospel tradition that made a name a staggering 65 years ago, the album also embraces all sorts of modern influences and a slew of guest appearances. Their version of the Fatboy Slim/Macy Gray collaboration "Demons," for example, includes contributions from Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Billy Preston, and features a rap from Blackalicious' The Gift of Gab. In other words, this certainly isn't your grandfather's gospel music, but it somehow manages to sound modern and ancient at the same time.
The Blind Boys of Alabama perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 20 at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Advance tickets are available for $30 and $20 at the venue's box office, all Ticketmaster locations, online at ticketmaster.com, or by calling 321-1000.
ON THE BANDWAGONSt. Patrick's Day brings a pair of reunions by local bands. The Mollys, who merged Celtic music with Tex-Mex, will play a St. Paddy's Day reunion show for the second consecutive year at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 17 at The Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave. Admission is $10. For more info call 690-0991.
The same night brings the second recent reunion show in 25 years (the first was in 2003) by '70s country band The Frank and Woody Show. They'll be at El Casino Ballroom, 437 E. 26th St., at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 17. Advance tickets are available for $25 at Piney Hollow, Hear's Music, Head East and Head West Smokeshops.
Portland, Ore.'s Juanita Family and Friends, who count three former Tucsonans among their ranks, perform old-time country music convincingly and gorgeously. They'll be at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Wednesday, March 22, along with San Diego's Bartender's Bible and locals Caliche Con Carne. The show starts at 9 p.m., and cover is $5. Call 622-3535 for more details.
Don't let the name scare you away from Say Hi To Your Mom's show Monday, March 20 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. They've got mopey bedroom-pop down pat. The show begins at 8:30 p.m. with sets from The Start, The Double, and Mazarin. Cover is $7. For more info, call 798-1298.
Finally, Tucson punk vets Bloodspasm will perform their final show on Saturday, March 18 at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Cover is $5, and the show begins at 9 p.m. with openers Absolute Fucking Saints, False Promise and Delphinger. That number again is 622-3535.