Wednesday, June 27, 2007

mewithoutyou Concert and a bit of personal history with Tooth & Nail Records

This Past Saturday I went to see mewitoutyou at the Metro. mewithoutyou can be described as a Christian Punk band, though one can argue that their most recent album and thus their show at the Metro departs from Punk. Certainly the band is not simply recycling a particular sound one would immediately recognize as "Punk", but then I would argue that to do so is not truly Punk. I say mewithout you is a Punk band and while they may go beyond what is typically Punk they remain so. Their blurb about their new album on Tooth & Nail Web pages describers their "distinctive sound" as "post-hardcore". But then I still see Goth as dark and gloomy Punk. So, perhaps I make use of these labels loosely and without precision. Punk like Goth transcends a narrowly conceived musical style, that is at least how I understand it.

However I digress. The mewithoutyou concert was an all Tooth & Nail Records concert with three other bands signed with the record label opening for mewithoutyou. So, I found myself in a world I had not really engaged for some 13 years: the world of Christian Rock music. The one opening band I saw were certainly having fun with Rock elements and were fun to watch there was nothing about it that grabbed me. In a sense it is what CCM has sort of become approximate the sound of something popular be sure there is some form of Christian lyrics to it and viola, a Christian Rock band. the opening band was not that formulaic. They were just up their having fun but nothing all that inspirational. The crowd at the concert felt very familiar and at the same time somewhat alien. It was also a little odd because as the edgy Christian rock scene in LA finally died in the early 90's, Tooth & Nail was born.

Mewithoutyou played a set mostly from their new album. It was powerful, I was so drawn into the music that I have a little difficulty describing the concert. I did not feel like I was at a "Christian" concert listening to a Christian band. I saw undercover a couple of times, the quintessential Christian Punk Band, this was very different. Even with undercover the music, the art was secondary to the message, Christians concerts were often tinged with mini-sermons, trying to get people saved. Certainly mewithoutyou had something to say but they let the music and the performance stand alone. No intrusions of "This song is about..." that turn into sermonetes. I danced (well as much as one can within a crowed standing shoulder to shoulder) for most of the concert, and a small mosh pit did form for several of the songs.

I was reminded of the concerts I would go to in late high school and then during college in LA, usually in independent evangelical churches either their main auditoriums or their gymnasiums. Most of the bands were never signed by a label or were signed by Michael Knott's defunct label Blond Vinyl, so even if I remembered their names you would not recognize them. Though the most memorable were the AOTC (Association of the Cross) concert I saw, which was the last time a Punk band played at a Calvary Chapel. I think I became a lover of Punk at that show, I was in High School at the time. The other was a show with Breakfast with Amy and Violet Burning(at the time my friend Bill Sammons was a guitarist for the band). Memorable in Part because the lead singer for Breakfast with Amy came out on stage in drag. The LA Christian Rock scene in the mid to late 1980's into the early 1990's was not a preachy scene it was Christians wanting to play rock-n-roll. The concerts were places Christians of various stripes gathered and hung out with non-Christians. The "Christian bands" often had members who did not identify as "Christians" and certainly not "Evangelical" as one might expect in a CCM scene.

The demise of the scene could be attributed to a number of causes one being the behind the scenes drama that often existed in bands between bands, or simply that eventually things pass, or the "sex drugs and rock-n-roll" and/or that if you wanted to be signed on a Christian label there was the pressure to tone down become evangelistic and you best be sure all your band members were good upstanding evangelicals who didn't drink or smoke (or at least were good at pretending). Mike Knott attempted to create a space on a record label for the type of Christian bands that emerged in and out of this scene with Blond Vynal Records, but the label was defunct by 1993, when Tooth & Nail was founded with a similar vision. Michael Knott produced an album or two for the new label and attempted to sign a band called Delirium Blue. My friends Alex and Jamie Makarzyk,Chuck Rodriguez and Neil Vorndran had formed the band and had been playing clubs around LA often and on for several years and all had been in the LA Christian rock scene. Jamie had been the bassist for the infamous AOTC. Chuck refused to sign with Tooth & Nail believing that if they signed a record deal with a Christian record label they'd have to be evangelical in image. Knott and the rest of Delirium Blue couldn't convince Chuck that Tooth & Nail would be different. Ironically Tooth & Nail has been able to keep something of the spirit of that LA scene and has even signed bands that have not identified as Christian and whose members both identify and and don't identify as Christians.

One funny side note: Until reading the Wikepedia articles on Michael Knott and Tooth & Nail Records I had thought Michael Knott had helped found the record label. However he was only on the label and produced some of the first albums put out by Tooth & Nail. I believed this because my friend Alex would say when Delirium Blue was considering signing with Tooth & Nail, "Knott's lable wants to sign us." Since I knew he had run Blond Vinyl and that it had gone under I had assumed he was also behind Tooth and Nail. As it turns out he was just recruiting some of the early talent for the label as well as being on the label himself, which is probably what Alex meant by "Knott's label...".