Photos by Jef With One F
It's accurate to say that I went to see The 71's on Monday night with some hesitancy; my knowledge of contemporary Christian music is limited to Jars of Clay's "Flood" and the Prom scene from the movie Saved!. Despite my affection for the band's LP, We Are Locomotive, I just wasn't sure that I was ready to endure a sermon plus power chords.
Luckily, the mood in Warehouse Live was very light, and though I in my black leather trench coat and permanent sneer stood out like a sore thumb with black nail polish, I relaxed fairly quickly. A self-important doorman, who, like the rest of his ilk, will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes, blocked my entrance backstage for pre-show interview purposes.
Thus trapped, I settled against the wall to catch the last half of Evangeline's set. I'm not going to try and do justice to their performance, as I only caught the tail end. But look for a review of their album, We Alright Down Here, soon. I can honestly say it is one of the prettiest things to ever spin. That's for later, though. For now, on to the main course.
Whatever else can be said about The 71's, they are loud and alive. Singer Keeton, with his Jared Leto-evolved Pokemon form, is a consummate frontman. He brings a wonderful sense of playfulness and play to the performance. The result is a quite infectious feeling apparent in the smiles of the rest of the band and audience.
The set progressed with breakneck speed. Though the 71's are a Christian rock band, perhaps the 'rock,' not the 'Christian,' should own the capital letter in that phrase. Later, backstage, the band opened up on their intention to change the way modern Christian rock was viewed.
"Right now," said Keeton, "Christian rock is only designed to sell rock music to Christians." What is very apparent is that The 71's saves its pretension for the excellence of its music (which is hard to argue with), and its sincerity for its religious lyrics.
"We're just a rock band," said Keeton, with the rest of the band nodding in agreement. "If what we sing brings someone closer to God, then that's fine, but what we want is for people to have a good time."
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Good times were certainly had by all. Though the crowd seemed initially taken aback by the energetic antics of The 71's after Evangeline's somewhat more ambient tones, they picked up the pace with the band's second song, "Start Again". In the middle of the song, Keeton commanded a chorus sing-along, something that I've watched fall on deaf ears for many years in Houston.
Maybe God is on their side, though, because the audience went total banana. Obviously no inquisition is going to let up just when the torture is getting good and kinky, so the band next involves the audience as a percussive element for the song "Count" that is normally accomplished by a misplaced cowbell. And they did it through the whole song! Seriously, who makes that happen?
After much rolling of their own original rocks, the band slowed things down somewhat with an energetic cover of Stone Temple Pilots's "Interstate Love Song." The slightly more downbeat tune gave bassist Jacob and guitarist Cecil a chance to really shine, and served as a nice breather from the faster material, the lack of which is the only real drawback of We Are Locomotive.
The pace returned quickly though, and the set ended as it begun - loud and alive. The 71's is a band that truly lets its music do the talking. Here, the magic lies not in the message, but in the excellence of its delivery. And I, sin-stained and cynical, a Tibetan Buddhist and former fervent follower of Anton Szandor LaVey, had a very pleasant time with a Christian rock band on Monday night. - Jef With One F