Monday, November 24, 2008

The Public Image: New Wave/Post-Punk Old-School and Revival

(The following is a transcript of a presentation I gave to an alienated audience in Music Appreciation class, who gave me a lot of cold stares and made me feel very uncomfortable, but pretentiously applauded at the end anyway)

The story of New Wave and Post-Punk music basically begins where the story of Punk left off after the big crash of 1978. That was the year when The Sex Pistols, one of the most important bands in the genre, broke up, leaving a shattered mosaic of Punk factions in the wake of it's ruin. The big breakup was catalyzed by the ongoing dispute between John Lydon, commonly known as "Johnny Rotten", the stage name he used when he was performing with The Sex Pistols, and Malcolm McLaren, their sleezeball manager. Defiantly foaming at the mouth to challenge the United Kingdom's nationalistic pretensions in the most impolite and confrontational manner possible, soon after the release of the infamous single "God Save The Queen", angry hordes of thuggish patriots thought they ought to show Lydon just how civilized Britannia is by repeatedly assaulting him. And so, according to Simon Reynold's Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, finding himself "Scared, scarred, and in practical terms virtually under house arrest, Lydon decided to take control of his own destiny. His anarchist/Antichrist persona - originally Lydon's own creation, but hyped up by manager Malcom McLaren and distorted by a media eager to believe the worst - had spiraled out of control. Agreeing to do the Capital Records interview without consulting his management, Lydon embarked on a process of persona demolition that would result in "Public Image" the song and Public Image Ltd the group." (p. 16) Public Image Ltd., the band John Lydon formed in the wake of his departure from The Sex Pistols, would go on to be one of the defining bands at the vanguard of the New Wave and Post-Punk revolution.

So what exactly is New Wave and Post-Punk music? Well, the term "New Wave" itself originally derives from a movement in avant-garde cinema, the French New Wave, and was first applied to Punk music by the aforementioned Malcolm McLaren. Beginning to circulate through both the underground fanzines and the music press, Seymour Stein of Sire Records began to describe bands like the Talking Heads and The Ramones as "New Wave" to get airplay on radio stations leary of the whole "Punk" thing. In time, New Wave would come to describe not just any kind of Punk band, but those bands that favored an innovative and experimental sound over Punk's stripped-down roots-rock revival. Arguing that "radical content demands radical form," (p. 3) New Wave musicians believed that "punk had failed because it attempted to overthrow rock's status quo using conventional music." (Ibid.) Seeking to challenge the bland, self-complacent rhythms of normalcy and become "a thorn in the side of mediocrity," (Ibid. p. 355) this new breed of Punk musicians created music at the cutting edge of production, instrumentation, song-structure, media technology, art and design, and lyrical narrative. As different bands took a different approach to their musical experimentation, the term "Post-Punk" came to describe bands like Public Image Ltd. Joy Division, and Gang Of Four that have a gritty experimental sound based on analog instruments like the electric guitar and bass. "New Wave", on the other hand, came to describe the glossy synthetic sound of bands like the Talking Heads, Devo, and The Police, which made heavy use of sleek guitars, synthesizers, and saxaphones. With that, I will now play excerpts from a couple of songs. The first is "Public Image" by Public Image Ltd., while the second is "Spirits In The Material World" by The Police...

And so, to break down the sound of Post-Punk and New Wave music, we can identify the following elements. Post-Punk achieves its gritty experimental sound through the use of angular guitar playing, giving it a sound that is brittle, crisp, and spiky. Where a lot of rock bands like to overcharge the reverb on guitars in production to give them a big fat sound, the Post-Punks, under heavily influence of the wide open dub spaces of Reggae music, argued that in terms of musical space, "minimal is maximal." And so, opening up the space between Punk's big wall of noise, grooving basslines or atmospheric synthesizers shifted to the fore as the main driving melody of Post-Punk music. Turning disco into a danse macabre, Funk into a mechanistic pressure groove, employing state of the art synthesizers drawn from Krautrock, and implementing a Dub and Reggae rhythm and vibe, Post-Punk musicians had seized upon a treasury of disorientation effects to shatter the self-complacent rhythms of normalcy. Not surprisingly, chaotic driving dance rhythms drawn from each of these sources played a huge role in Post-Punk music, while the disorienting effects of the whole sound was amply augmented with production board wizardry.

While New Wave musicians turned to techniques and influences similar to the Post-Punks, most opted for an approach that was simultaneously both more subtle and more culturally pervasive than most Punk and Post-Punk musicians. Indeed, to this day, I hear New Wave music all the time when I go on outings about the town, which is a lot more than one can say about bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Where the Punks and Post-Punks liked music that was loud, gritty, and in-your-face, New Wave musicians thought the most subversive music was glossy and synthetic, well-produced, but coming apart at the edges to subvert the illusion of pop perfection and it's cultural image of a happy and well-ordered society. Complimenting this subtly subversive approach to music making, New Wave musicians employed tactics like the use of coy humor and disruptive multimedia presentations to challenge everyday assumptions about the nature of life and society while still getting airplay. Making heavy use of synthesizer melodies and atmospherics drawing heavily upon Krautrock, Dub, and Funk, New Wave musicians always managed to maintain a more futuristic edge than their pop peers. Similar influences pervaded the rhythmic section of New Wave, which was complimented by a thin and choppy rhythm guitar to set it apart from that dense rock & roll vibe. Completing the sound, the occasional inclusion of Jazzy influences like trumpets and saxophones give it just the right amount of added flair.

Where Post-Punk's popularity would languish under the weight of John Lydon's eventual latent bout of extreme laziness, New Wave's popularity was just getting ready to really flare up. In the midst of ultimately rock-oriented New Wave and Post-Punk bands, musicians like The Human League, Gary Numan, and New Order saw in New Wave the opportunity to break free of rock in favor of a more straightforward electronic sound. Fusing together elements of Krautrock, Funk, Eurodisco, and New York Electro, these bands created a new style of New Wave music known as Synthpop. Built on catchy dancefloor rhythms made on drum machines, simple and highly geometric synthesizer melodies, and pulsing Funk basslines, Synthpop musicians like The Human League had built a sound that would do for pop what the Ramones had done for Rock. For the Human League, their big break came when the invited Joanne Catherall and Sussane Sulley, two pretty ordinary girls dancing during a Futurist night at a local nightclub, to join up with the band. Having "literally let the crowd into their sound", interest in the band and in Synthpop skyrocketted. With convenient historical timing, the release of cheap new synthesizers flared up a newfound "anyone can do it" do-it-yourself ethic in the realm of pop. By 1982, America had a full scale Second British Invasion on its hands with the advent of MTV, and there were so many Synthpop bands in Britain that nervous members of the Musicians Union desperately lobbied the government to ration the use of synthesizers to protect the jobs of professional orchestras. With that, I will now play an excerpt from another track, "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League...

As with any movement as progenous and influential as New Wave and Post-Punk, there are a lot of important subgenres that we don't have time to go into, many of which survive today as independent subcultures. Among these are No Wave, Industrial, New Romantic, Gothic, Darkwave, Mutant Disco, Avant-Funk, 2-Tone Ska Revival, Shoegaze, Ethereal Wave, and Dreampop. While New Wave and Synthpop was driven underground by the successive waves of music written as a backlash to it, since the early 2000's there has been a resurgence of interest in New Wave and Post-Punk music, leading to a new revival of the sound for the new millennium. On the one hand, a new spate of New Wave/Post-Punk revival bands such as She Wants Revenge, The Killers, Interpol, The Faint, Ladytron, and Arcade Fire have met with considerable success both in the mainstream and in the underground. These Post-Punk revivalists have proved especially successful in proving that the musical ideas of that era can be seamlessly merged with the forms and production techniques of Indie and Alternative rock. So too, one after another, legends of the initial Post-Punk era such as Gang of Four, The Fall, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Police, Duran Duran, Siouxsie of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and the Bauhaus have resurfaced to go on tour and release new albums that prove the New Wave and Post-Punk sound and style to be as relevant as ever. So too, with the smash success of Control directed by Anton Corbijn, a 2007 independent film about the life of Joy Division's lead singer Ian Curtis, it would appear that the Post-Punk revival will continue to gain momentum. With that, I will leave you with excerpts from two final tracks from the New Wave and Post-Punk revival, "Into A Swan" by Siouxsie, and "Walk Away" by ThouShaltNot.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Courage To Carry On

Why do I bother anymore? Will it always be like this? They tell me that things will get better, but will they really? I look into the faces of the old people, and I see the signs of a long and unresolved anxiety and discontent. We move from childhood fears to teenage angst to young adult restlessness to adult dissatisfaction to midlife crisis to weary old age in the shadow of death. At what point will we admit that life itself is one long crisis set against the backdrop of suffering and truth? Like the foolish crowd of untruth in some lines by The Cure, we are "Justified with empty words - the party just get's better and better!" (The Cure, "Faith") But then again, perhaps it is I who is the fool! Like the "preachers of death" spoken of by Nietzsche, I look upon the sick man, the old man, and the dead man, and I cry out "Woe is me! Life is refuted!" But what such "preachers of death" fail to realize is that life is deeply ambiguous, as amply demonstrated by such evidences, and so the affirmation of life must itself be deeply ambiguous. It would seem that the task ahead of us is to take upon our courageous life-affirmation all the suffering and anxiety, and to move onward. Did not Jesus do just this when he prayed in anxiety that the cup of suffering pass from him, yet went onward to the cross in courageous life-affirmation? And wouldn't you know it, when it seems like you can't carry on anymore, it is just then that you find renewed strength. And so, empowered on high, I pray God help me remember that I can handle it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dark Shadows in a Ruined Age: The Crüxshadows, Ayria, and I:Scintilla Play Denver (Music Appreciation Homework)

The Crüxshadows, Ayria, and I:Scintilla at Owsley's Golden Road, Denver, Colorado on September 26, 2008

Deep in the heart of Denver, shadowy figures gather at the Golden Road to witness a dark spectacle, a fitting testament to a ruined age. Word had spread through the dark subcultures that three influential Gothic and Industrial bands, The Crüxshadows, Ayria, and I:Scintilla, would be playing tonight. For my faithful friends and I, a threefold chord that is not easily broken, there would be no missing an event of this caliber. The skies were grey as I embarked from my suburban existence to journey into the giant colossus of neon and steel, and I mused over the ravens that had taken home in this illusory deathless consumer paradise. Making my way through busses and high-tech trains, I took some time to listen to some recently released old-school Gothic music by All Gone Dead and Scarlet's Remains - lingering vestiges of the 80's, when the Gothic subculture held tighter bonds to it's musical ancestors, Punk, Post-Punk, and New Wave. The dirgelike lamentations of humanity's downfall and the shrieking ghostly wailings of the guitars seemed a fitting soundtrack as I whirled backwards over dilapidated post-industrial deadzones at high speed to get where I was going.

But as autumn leaves turn and fall, so do the times change. To remain strictly rooted in the past is as futile as denial of creation's flow, not least because it is with passage of time that the Creator's will for the future is revealed. Unsurprisingly then, these days the synthesizer has replaced the electric guitar as the instrument of choice in the Gothic subculture, infusing the music with dark soundscape properties, sonic revivalism of antiquated musical forms, and a certain underground future chic. Even so, the direction of the future is guided by the past and present, and any culture that has lost sight of it's traditions and history is condemned to aimless futility. Equally unsurprising, then, is the way several sectors of the Neo-Goth scene drown in nihilistic fatalism, even as many older scene veterans demand a strict return to traditional form (though this reactionary attitude would radically stifle and diminish the subculture). Moving from the specific to the general, one might say that when set in dialectical tension, the engines of the future and the ghosts of the past continue to wage war in the present everywhere we go, if only we open our eyes to it. But as Hegel observed, in the ebb and flow history, conflict and conversation between two opposing forces or ideas will lead to one or many synthesis incorporating what is thought to be the best features of both. It is fortunate, then, that all of the bands that played this night are quite familiar with the best features of both the old and new schools, seamlessly mixing the two to create some seriously brilliant music. It truly was a night to remember!

But I'm getting ahead of myself... As fate, fortune, or providence would have it, a young Gothic woman came on board the train, and departed at the same spot I needed to get off: the 16th Street Mall. Because I still wasn't completely familiar with the area, I asked her if she was going to the Crüxshadows concert (she wasn't) and if she would help point the way I needed to go. Glad to help, she pulled up up a map on her cell phone that told me everything I needed to know (isn't technology useful?). It was night now, and I soon found myself descending one of Denver's most lucrative streets immersed in stark contrasts of light and shadow. All around me flashed a dizzying array of neon signs from some of the world's most wealthy multinational corporations as the towering skyscrapers gave the strip an atmosphere of claustrophobia. I remembered that if the 16th Street Mall attracted great wealth and affluence, it also attracted poverty and desperation, and that I should be on guard against any potential threats. I found it to be very ironic that in spite of the current economic downturn, more people walked these busy streets than I had ever seen here. Unbeknownst to me at the time, as I walked there upon the street with these and other thoughts in my mind, two sets of eyes fixed their gaze upon me from within a cafe, two sets of eyes I would meet later that night.

And so it came time to walk a much darker street to arrive at the Golden Road - my final destination. Not surprisingly, this turned my mind to thoughts of life, death, risk, eternity, and the meaning of life. I thought about turning back and returning to the superficially secure consumer zones rather than risk what I knew would be a powerful life-changing experience, but decided against it. I thought about what Stoic philosophers and the early Christians said about finding a meaningful existence in listening to the direction of the eternal Word (Logos). I remembered that I had already decided that if I really believed that life has a meaning, then I must place living a meaningful life at greater priority than concern for personal safety. I believed the Word had brought me here for a good reason, and I couldn't back down now. Well, my risk finally paid off as I arrived at Owsley's Golden Road with a shroud of Goths in sight. The establishment played some pretty sweet Gothic and Industrial tunes as we waited in the dark red corridors to get inside the club, and I was enthralled to hear I:Scintilla's sound check as we all stood there. Finally, I paid for my ticket, received my lime green wristband, and went inside.

Here is a good place to briefly explain Gothic and Industrial music to anyone who is unfamiliar with it. Gothic is a style of music that emerged from the 80's Punk, Post-Punk, and New Wave scenes and eventually splintered off into it's own distinct underground subculture. Common elements of Gothic music include dark and ethereal vocalization, eerily haunting guitars, elegant and dreamlike synthesizers, tribalistic rhythms, and a general romantic affinity for antiquated musical forms and instruments. The experience of listening to Gothic music is very cathartic, allowing for the release of emotions such as fear, grief, guilt, sadness, loneliness, and alienation in a way that allows the listener to find beauty through it. It is this beatific element of Gothic music that differentiates it from other styles of dark music, and lends the listener the strength to endure their darkest times (or perhaps simply day to day personal issues). Someone once said 'Goth is to religion what Punk is to politics,' and this is a keen observation. The Gothic subculture, after all, has never been afraid to nail some serious criticisms to the doors of pompously self-righteous religiousity and crushingly mundane secularism, while still representing a very wide spectrum of perspectives on religion and spirituality. Common lyrical themes and images in Gothic music include dark romanticism, gothic horror, religion and spirituality (particularly Catholicism), existentialism, suffering and death, stark contrasts like light and shadow, mystery and knowledge, the mundane and the supernatural, hope and beauty, love and romance, and loneliness and alienation.

Industrial, meanwhile, is a style of music that emerged from the late 70's and early 80's electronic New Wave, Electropunk, and Avant-Garde music, and really caught on when bands like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, KMFDM, Skinny Puppy, and Front Line Assembly introduced elements of Electro and Funk to allow the listener to stomp out anger on the dancefloor. Like the Goths, Industrial music has it's own underground subculture of fans, collectively known as Rivetheads, though the style's perennial popularity with the Gothic subculture makes the two scenes tightly interwoven. Common elements of Industrial music include chanted vocals often processed through electronic distortion, militant and mechanical synthesizers, deep and dark Funk basslines, the occasional voltage-surged electric guitar, pounding drum-machine rhythms, and audio-sampling from a variety of media sources. Like Gothic music, the experience of listening to Industrial music is also very cathartic, though in a much different sort of way. To listen to Industrial music is to take a musical journey through the most dangerous and disturbing technological travesties of the past, present, and future, allowing one to release fear, anger, and alienation, and to become empowered with new courage and strength. The big theme of Industrial music is technologies of violence and control, which serves to give it a much sharper political edge than most styles of electronic music, and allows musicians to brutally deconstruct the pretenses of governments, corporations, and religions under the capitalist system. Taking an intensely cyberpunk ethos toward technology, the Rivethead subculture has always encouraged the individual to subvert ubiquitous media and technology in favor of empowering oneself, oppressed peoples and humanity, or both. Common lyrical themes and images of Industrial music include computers and media technology, modern warfare, macabre death factories, social inequality and class warfare, violence and oppression, manipulation and control, the relation of man to machine, dignity and alienation of labor, hope and fatalism, and the bright or bleak future of humanity.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled program: The Crüxshadows, Ayria, and I:Scintilla LIVE in concert! An elegant spectacle of fallen grandeur awaited me as I stepped into the main room of the concert hall. The room was, appropriately, dark and dimly illuminated with faint light, though not to such a degree that one could not see clearly see everything in the room. Where children of the Jazz age once contemplated crumbling castles from a bygone age inhabited by children of the night at movie theaters showing Dracula, now the children of the night contemplated the fallen relics of that same age while inhabiting it's ruined and renovated buildings. The establishment, of course, did a good job keeping things spic-and-span for a good concert experience, wiring up the historied halls with some seriously sweet technology. Still, taking care not trouble the ghosts of history and ruin the decor, spread throughout the room were many beautiful modernist retro-revival paintings with a certain Jazz age chic. Realizing that my friends had still not arrived and that I would probably have quite some time to wait before the concert, I went about the room perusing the paintings to the mild distress of the various people sitting in comfy couches right next to them. Complementing the dim lighting of a historied room filled with Goths, faintly jazzy tunes with deep and shadowy basslines, mind-boggling atmospherics, and minimal spacing pervaded the air as groups of people stood about engaging in conversation. I, however, was still alone, and just couldn't bring myself to talk to anyone new at the moment.

And so, I sat by myself upon a knee-high elevated "island" at the foot of the empty dancefloor, and there I listened, watched, and waited. I mused about how the view from up there was so much like the view from the "pillbox" (a small audio-visual room shaped like a World War I bunker) in the back of the church where I had prepared PowerPoint presentations for quite some time. For the span of many Sunday nights up to the present day, I attended a Denver church known as the "Scum of the Earth" (so named from 1 Corinthians 4:11-13), a distinctly eclectic and eccentric ragtag assembly of the socially ostracized led by a team of theologically orthodox, yet highly unconventional pastors. It was, fittingly, at Scum that the hand of Providence had gathered forth my closest friends, Adam and Maggie, from the four winds to bring us together. We were a tightly-knit trio of Christian Goths steeped in theology, philosophy, music, art, cinema, and literature, while each of us had a complimentary set of characteristics and dispositions that made for a cohesive whole. It truly was a match made in heaven, and a source of great strength for us all.

One thing that was established from very early in the friendship was that everyone was into the music of The Crüxshadows. Two weeks before the concert, a match made in heaven of a much different kind, namely my cousin's beautiful wedding, had prevented me from attending church. Shortly thereafter, someone had posted a flyer for a Denver concert with The Crüxshadows, Ayria, and I:Scintilla on my Internet radio station's Myspace.[1] This was great news! Alas that I could not have told everyone a week earlier! And so, next Sunday I arrived at church with all the essential concert information carefully written on my black rose notebook. I made sure to announce the concert first thing when I saw my my friends again. Well, Adam just put on his characteristically knowing and bemused smile that in effect says: "you're saying the right thing, but not quite how I expected" as I told everyone the news. Apparently, they had all learned of the concert the week before, and were going to make sure to tell me about it. And so, after a contagious epidemic of laughter (Goths tend to have an acute sense of irony), we all confirmed our attendance and worked out the details thereof.

But now here I sat alone again, with no friends in sight. I wondered if something had come up that would have prevented them from coming after all. And so I sat there pondering quite a few things. I thought about how I had my eyes set on I:Scintilla's newest album, Optics, which I had heard a bit of on Myspace before the concert, and had budgeted to purchase on this occasion. I noticed when I visited the merchandise booth, which was presided over by an enigmatic fellow in Egyptian eyeliner, that Ayria had also released a new album. I was tempted to purchase both of them in the spur of the moment, since technically I had the money with me. But I remembered that I had set aside that money for Juleidy, a young girl living under poverty in Ecuador, who I sponsored through Compassion International, a Colorado Springs-based "Christian child sponsorship organization dedicated to the long-term development of children living in poverty around the world."[2] After all, if Jesus came "to proclaim good news to the poor... to proclaim liberty to the captives... to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor," (Luke 4:18-19 cf. Isaiah 61:1-2) who indeed was I not to invest in such a bold venture?

And so I thought about how easy it was to sell out God and human lives for material commodities, both at the individual and collective levels. It seemed as if within this one single moral decision was a microcosm of relations between the first and third world, as if it's fate hung directly in my hands. After making the right and responsible decision, my mind soon after turned to other things, namely that I was both alone and a bit lonely. But then I remembered that loneliness itself is existential in nature, and that I did not suffer anything that wasn't common to mankind. After all, I thought, everyone is born alone, spends their whole lives as a separate person, and ultimately dies alone. In spite of our deep-seated desire for relationships and union with other beings, the only beings we experience at their own home-ground of being are ourselves - all the rest are experienced but in form and appearance at an insurmountable existential distance. Only in the case of God can it be rightly said that we have a relationship with another being in which we recognize and are recognized by the Other at the home-ground of being. But even then, most people simply don't recognize God's presence as much as they could, and the very process of growing closer to or more distant from such a being itself entails a lot of loneliness and suffering. And then, because we all live our lives as bodies in motion set dodging, bouncing, and colliding with other bodies in motion until we cease motion in death, we never get enough time for adequate relational exploration to really discover each other as much as we should. Still, contemporary theology rightly emphasizes the message of the Gospel in terms of facilitating reconciliation and right relations with God and other beings, so it seems likely that each of these problems will be ultimately resolved in the full attainment of salvation and eternal life.

Well, it was not long after I completed my musings on the ontology of loneliness that lo!, who should I see but my friends coming in the door? Well, I saw them, but they didn't see me as they very quickly made their way across the dancefloor. And so I quickly rose up and pursued them at 5 o'clock until I came within range of their ghost vision, upon which they both quickly did an about face to greet me. It was an immense pleasure to see each other, although we did no more than simply do what we said we were going to do. Adam mentioned that he and Maggie stopped at a cafe on the 16th Street Mall before coming to the concert. He said that they had wondered where I was and whether I was going to make it (oh the irony!), but noticed a characteristically black-coated streak walking down the avenue, and thought that might be me. I told him he was right, and we all laughed. But soon afterwards they apologized and informed me that they must make their way to the restroom before we could converse further. And so, noticing the signs that it was about to get much busier, I quickly recaptured the empty island and one by one was joined by my friends soon after. We talked a lot about the music of the night, culminating in a fascinating discussion of the literary influences of The Crüxshadows and their relevance to theology. Aside from the obvious and ubiquitous references to classical literature and mythology, everyone agreed the lyrics demonstrated a strong knowledge of the Bible, particularly the Gospel of John. Maggie noted the allusion in "Winterborn" to the passage in John's Gospel where Jesus says "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) I myself mentioned that "Sophia" (Greek for wisdom) seems to display a strong working knowledge of Wisdom theology, which sprung up from ancient Jewish sapiential literature, and went on to have a particularly strong influence on John's Gospel.[3]

It was about this time that I noticed a thin and shy but adventuring kid clad in a Crüxshadows shirt who was the spitting image of my elementary school years. The event was for ages 16 and up, but evidently the kid had connections, and at any rate would probably be pretty safe among a more or less drugless and pacifistic counterculture. Looking a bit out of his element (though very much in it), I made sure he saw me smile at him reassuringly as he came past, and then mused with my friends about what it was like to see a doppelgänger of one's childhood self. Soon afterwards, a professional DJ emerged on a platform up front with his white Apple laptop (an obligatory status symbol in the electronic music scenes) to begin his set before the show. Clad in grey shorts and a black t-shirt, the DJ's beard and glasses, combined with his general air of faint geekiness, made me suspect he was a Rivethead. My suspicions were confirmed when he launched it off with "WorlockED" by Skinny Puppy to begin his weapons-grade set, which was heavily charged with explosive EBM, Industrial, Power Noise, Electro, and Futurepop music, with a touch of Electro-Goth here and there. One thing's for sure: the man had a great sense of rhythm, and I frequently caught Adam (a skilled percussionist) playing air-drums with it. I myself greatly admired much of his music's soundscape properties, and so closed my eyes to visualize it as I curved and coiled my fingers with the atmospherics.

But music made for the dancefloor is meant for dancing to, and so the dancefloor quickly began to fill with dancers. Unfortunately, I don't consider myself to be much of a dancer, and so sat it out with my friends. Most Gothic dancing can be described as slow, swirling, and mystifying in a kind of Middle-East meets monster mash way. Regrettably, the dancing of a lot of the ladies proved incompatible with my own personal sense of modesty, so I mostly kept my attention elsewhere to avoid dying of embarrassment. The music itself was, as aforementioned, quite brilliant, although much too loud for serious conversation. And so, with the exception of brief banter about this or that song in the set, my friends and I mostly enjoyed it in silence (as, unlike other people, we don't necessarily tend to attribute negative meanings to silence). One moment I remember very well was when the DJ, perhaps feeling a bit feisty, played a song by Snog, a notoriously tongue-in-cheek Industrial band lead by a Marxist satirist named David Thrussel, titled "Hey Christian God", in which the singer, being quite pissed off with the mindless consumerism of the Christmas season, takes a shot at committing the unforgivable sin with the accusation that "Your holy ghost is a curse on the human race." Briefly praying in silence that the same Spirit not let the mad follies of the capitalist system not blind the people present to it's saving work, my prayers were immediately answered by "I Will Pray" by KMFDM, a song about a kind of prayerful zeitgeist to ensure "your country undergoes recovery" from capitalism's parasitic influence. Being a Christian socialist myself, I couldn't agree more. It was a poignant moment that seemed to embody the whole tension of the Gothic and Industrial scene's attitudes toward God and religion & spirituality, and I took it to heart.

And so the dance went on, and would continue to do so until silence fell at the end of the hour, though no clock of ebony was present to ring out it's revere for the revelers. In time I noticed the same kid I saw earlier had made his way out onto the dance floor to take a charmingly bold but awkward shot at dancing (though he certainly wasn't the only one). To be honest, I felt quite envious of the kid's guts. Maybe that scene had a similar effect on Adam too, because in spite of being self-admittedly terrified of dancing, he went out to join him. Well, as it so happens, Adam has some serious Gothic dancefloor mojo, so it was an immense pride watching him out there. By and by, the kid managed to find some nice lady with a distinctly Eldergoth vibe (i.e. of scene veterans from the 80's) to teach him some of the dancefloor moves. It was about this time I began to have the nagging feeling that I should just go out there and start dancing myself, though my efforts would probably look quite ridiculous. Unfortunately, it was not long after I started that I was compelled to finish by the end of the set. Off went the music, leaving the room in silence as I:Scintilla began to prepare the stage for their set. Well, the silence in this context proved a bit awkward, and someone in management fumbled around with about 20 seconds of Skinny Puppy before settling on about 2 minutes of the more minimalist stuff at the beginning. But eventually, everything was set up, and I:Scintilla emerged onto the stage to begin their set...

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla is a relatively recent band to emerge in the Gothic scene whose reputation has built quite rapidly. Apparently, the sheer buzz generated after a mere three years after forming in 2003 garnered the attention of Alfa-Matrix, one of the Gothic and Industrial scene's premier record labels (second only to Metropolis Records). Shortly after signing up with Alfa-Matrix, I:Scintilla released the Havestar EP, which remained on the Deutsche Alternative Charts Top 20 Singles for four weeks. Not surprisingly, I:Scintilla had the chance to perform in the May 2007 Wave Gotik Treffen (the world's biggest dark music and arts festival) in Leipzig, Germany. Releasing Optics, their excellent first full-length album on Alfa-Matrix the following June, the band's batteries were all charged up for even greater success. Well, I'm not exactly sure what gears and wheels were set into motion, but somewhere down the line I:Scintilla scored a 45 date 2008 U.S. tour in support of Ayria and The Crüxshadows, two of the biggest bands in the scene. It is in the midst of this tour where we find the author and his friends soaking up the music.

Musically, I:Scintilla's claim to fame is the band's ability to seamlessly fuse together Darkwave, Industrial, and Alternative rock. Bearing a distinct musical and aesthetic resemblance to Garbage, a popular Alternative rock band heavily influenced by Siouxsie & The Banshees and the greats of New Wave and Post-Punk, I:Scintilla's rapid ascent may owe in no small part to the band's ability to bridge the Gothic scene's generation gap. Indeed, listening through Optics, it reminded me a lot of the best elements of Juju, Siouxsie & The Banshee's classic old-school Goth album, and so should appeal to those looking for a return to the older guitar-based Goth sound. For a new generation of Goths looking for loud grinding guitars and danceable swirling synths, meanwhile, I:Scintilla has plenty of that in store too. Getting into the nuts and bolts, the main driving element of I:Scintilla's music is the tension between Jim Cookas' doom-laden and grindingly mechanical guitars and Brittany Bindrim's characteristically sumptuous vocalization. As relates to the implements of electronic warfare (or at least what personal intelligence could gather), Justin Pogue blasts out mechanical funk and alluringly eerie atmospherics at the keyboards, while a nameless Apple laptop functions as drum machine, and perhaps also a sampler. But, of course, people these days are still reluctant to see entire band members get replaced by machines, so Vince Grech, formerly of Industrial/Hip-Hop band Stromkern, plays live drums to allay the audience's lingering fears of obsolescence.

Well, once it was clear the band was setting up and everyone interested was gathering 'round, Adam invited us to rise and join the crowd. Taking our place in the back of the lot, we had the advantage of being able to dance freely without too much space confinement (as I see it, everyone basically looks like a fool at a concert anyway, so I have nothing to fear). On the negative side, the rest of the crowd lent a visual barrier from seeing everything as clearly as possible, although this really wasn't that much of a problem most of the night. Britney Bindrim sported an elegant knee-length black skirt and sleeveless shirt in a kind of fusion of the Punk and Gothic Lolita styles, black boots, some kind of stockings mostly out of my visual range, a sharp and feisty eyeliner job, and long and curly dark tresses not unlike my instructor's own. The rest of the band were dressed in black shirts and pants (with the exception of Vince Greech's rivethead apparel) with suitably punk hairdos.

I forget whether I:Scintilla played first before introducing themselves, or whether they introduced themselves and then played, but what I heard completely blew me away. Hearing the guitar's eerie doom vibe in conjunction with the sheer enveloping presence of the synths seemed like the coolest thing ever when I heard it, especially being such a Gothic rock and Darkwave fan. Likewise, Vince Greech seemed to play flawlessly in conjunction with the drum machine, and the pounding factory rhythms had quite a presence in the room. Britney Bindrim's voice, meanwhile, came across as smoothly dark and melodious, dramatically hitting high and low ranges like the majestic flight of the ravens. Her stage presence, meanwhile, was in full measure just as feisty as her manner of dress, although apparently we Denverites were spared the horrors of cardboard politicians burned in effigy, as seen on other dates on the tour. Indeed, for all the subversive themes within the music, Bindrim didn't talk about it with us much, choosing instead to pretty much stick with generic stage banter. Likewise, what she was actually singing wasn't entirely clear to me aside from picking up on this or that phrase.

But where live listening may not always give the clearest idea of an artist's lyrics, looking them up online at the artist's website can definitely fill in the gaps. In Optics, I:Scintilla's lyrics are mainly targeted at "a blend of church and state," not least in the areas of their political and social behavior. Demonstrating a good working knowledge of key concepts in psychology and sociology, Britney Briddim's lyrics make ample use of these to brutally demystify and deconstruct the pretentions of religions and governments. While hardly useful for ontological inquiries into the truth of Christianity, her words prove more poignant in exposing the sinister side of the church as institution and agent of social conformity (though this isn't as much of a problem in a church like mine). Reading between the lines a bit, Briddim, like many Goths, seems to have been raised in a repressive Catholic background, only to reject and rebel against it. While it's a bit hard to tell, her lyrics seem to imply she is now either a Wiccan or a Naturalist. But as the old saying goes, "once a Catholic, always a Catholic," and in a certain sense this is definitely true of Briddim's songwriting. Littered throughout the lyrics are a variety of references to Catholic symbols and sacraments, as well as the telltale signs of an ongoing struggle with Catholic guilt. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I consider Catholicism to be an enemy of mine, but when one sees the elephant in the room, they are obligated to name it. After all, how can things improve if one cannot even say what is wrong with them? If for people like Bindrim the word "salvation" has more to do with oppression and repression than with freedom and liberation, it probably has more to do with much of the Christian Church's yawning self-complacency than with anything Jesus said.

And so the band played on, and would continue to do so until the end of the hour. The pounding Industrial rhythms and sheer dark vibe of the synthesizers and guitars made I:Scintilla's music really fun to dance to. While my own idea of Gothic and Industrial dancing is quite unusual, it seems to have amused a stout fellow in red suspenders who looked like some kind of Gothic Santa Claus right about the time I:Scintilla was playing "Toy Soldier." I think I noticed the same kid from earlier hanging about and having a good time, and I saw that Adam and Maggie were having fun too. But eventually, the set was over, and I:Scintilla bade everyone adieu. Wasting no time, I courteously but quickly made my way to to the merchandise booth to obtain a copy of I:Scintilla's Optics. It was there that I ran into Shade, an interesting Eldergoth I met my first semester of college, and who Providence led me to run into just two weeks before at the Buckley BX (my dad is retired airforce). He seemed as surprised to see me as I was him, but said he was glad to see me (the feeling was mutual), and reminisced of a Crüxshadows concert where Rogue was swinging from the rafters or something epic and romantic like that. I mentioned I was here with my friends, who I told him a bit about the last time we met, and his face betrayed a look of mild disgust, perhaps owing to the animosity between Christians and Wiccans. But where, as a Wiccan, he may have been reluctant to place trust and respect in my friends, he was certainly willing to place trust and respect in me. And so, as the conversation dragged out longer than I had anticipated, I politely explained I was over here to buy I:Scintilla's Optics, and so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Well, an unsightly shock waited for me as I arrived at the I:Scintilla section of the merchandise booth, a mess of cardboard in disarray as if the whole sector was closed and sold out. Having noticed the sign that said to do all I:Scintilla business at the Ayria section, I made my way to the Egyptian in a mild state of panic and inquired if there was still any I:Scintilla merchandise available. Directing me to look at the I:Scintilla section to my left, I said I had already looked there and it was unclear whether any of it was still available. No sooner had I said this then I was joined unexpectedly by a bookish girl who agreed with me and complained of "how hard they made it", or something like that. When she briefly mentioned good things about Optics and the band, I was really too surprised and dumbfounded (she was kind of cute) to respond with any more than three good words and a sheepish smile. The Egyptian, now having a good idea of what was up, took our orders for one copy of Optics apiece. With that out of the way, I made my way to rejoin my friends with the spoils of my purchase in hand. Opening the album to look at the insert and chatting about the bands, we listened, chatted, and waited until Ayria began setting up to play.

Ayria

Ayria is another relatively recent band formed in 2003 whose rapid ascent through the Gothic and Rivethead scenes could easily lead one to assume they've been around longer. Indeed, at current standings, Ayria ranks number seven in the listings for Industrial band profiles at VampireFreaks.com, the world's largest online community for the Gothic subculture and all related musical scenes. But where many scene veterans decry VampireFreaks for being too "Hot Topic" (i.e. making the underground mainstream and commercial), Ayria sees ample opportunity for making some serious points about technology, identity, and capitalistic commodification even of rebellion itself. Who indeed has been involved with these scenes for a long time without hearing disenfranchised veterans complain that the new Industrial bands sell out the older music's experimentalism, politics, grit, and visceral power to pander to the dancefloor like a bunch of ravers? But what sets Ayria apart from all those bands is that she's rediscovered the Funk, and it's really quite infectious and deadly. Drawing heavy influence and inspiration from the music and political humor of Industrial/EBM pioneers Nitzer Ebb, as well as the fun, geometry, and glamour of old-school Electro, Ayria mixes many of the best elements of both the old school and the new. Likewise, having just toured with The Crüxshadows just a few years ago, it comes as no surprise that Ayria rejoined them this year.

To a great extent, the sound and style of Ayria's music is best symbolized by the cover of the album Flicker. On the superficial level, it is colored a bold and attractive lime green package with pretty white letters decked in pink stars with a glamorous photograph of the singer, Jennifer Parkin - in other words a fun and readily consumable pop product. A closer look, however, reveals that those stars are bleeding, the image is disintegrating, and the singer is nervously sitting huddled over in black Gothic dress - a poignant image of the existential anxieties related to personal identity and death underlying the cultural phenomena of consumerism. The end result: music that may aptly be described as candy-coated bitter pills laced with caustic acid, a dangerous but medicinal treat overturning the bland, self-complacent rhythms of normalcy. Ever the industrious woman, Jennifer Parkin actually does all the music, programming, and vocals herself on her albums (though with some help from her producer). But as being a one-woman band isn't terribly practical for live performances, she is joined on the 2008 tour by Jeff M. on keyboards and Mike Wimer on electronic drums.

And so, breaking it down to sound and style, Jeff M. is a charismatic and feisty fellow on keyboards, clearly being fond of deploying synths to raise the kind of pandemonium Punk rockers do with guitars. Donning imposing and faintly militant black clothing in conjunction with a tall and bleached fanned mohawk, he just bobbed and weaved as he dished out the sleek geometry and devastating funk like it was nobody's business. It simply was not a question of whether he enjoyed the music he was playing - the sneaky rogue spent the entire hour before I:Scintilla played transfixed on the dancefloor. Mike Wimer, by contrast, was a complete ghost to the degree that I have to deduct his presence in my memory by the sight of electronic drums, and mainly played solid industrial-grade 4/4's suitable for the dancefloor imperative. Jennifer Parkin, meanwhile, donned her trademark enormous blond double ponytails streaked with a variety of primary colors, which she matched with a shiny blue corset, a black skirt just above knee length, and tall militant Rivethead boots. Parkin's distinctive style seems to complement her somewhat coquettish stage persona, which, rather like the perkygoths one meets from time to time, covers up bitterness with sweetness. As far as her singing style goes, it tends to be prone to moodswings from song to song, and ranges from sweet and melodic to gloomy and despondent to brooding and menacing.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the first thing I remember about the Ayria set is the color pink. The color featured prominently in the frames holding the equipment, as well as the giant flag decked in glamorous and glorious hearts, stars, and pistols (a fitting visual for the new Hearts For Bullets material). The first person to emerge on the stage was Jeff M., who came to make sure the Apple laptop was up and working. Hearing the audibly radiant rays of the Apple startup sound on the big speakers sounded particularly impressive and enlightening, resulting in a spontaneous round of applause from many members of the audience, including Adam and myself. Jeff, only momentarily caught off guard, began to do the signature hands over the head beat-clap of the electronic music scenes with a feisty and bemused look in his eyes. In this single moment was the microcosm of the energy of the evening, which would be suitably sustained throughout the performance when Jennifer Parkin and Jeff Wimer came up onto the stage and began to perform.

And so, once more, it's important to emphasize that what sets Ayria apart from other Industrial bands is that they've got the funk, and they've got it in spades. This is especially true in the live setting, where the sheer enveloping power of the catchy hooks and devastating rhythm and Funk are downright irresistible. I noticed some of the Goths around me seemed a bit confused about how to dance to this Funk-based music, but another dude from some indiscernible Punk-derived subculture had the right idea when he began to really get down and groove. Far less willing to get down and groove was this other guy with a certain conservative military air who reluctantly dragged himself in with some friends who were fans, and proceeded to spend the rest of the evening giving alienated and disgusted looks at everything that caught his gaze, including my friends and I. But as the old saying goes, "the show goes on", and not even some disrespectful out of place jerk could ruin it. And anyways, hey, who knows, maybe someday he'll wonder into a concert for a less pacifistic counterculture and proceed to get his ass kicked.

I think that because of danceable nature of Ayria's music, a lot of my attention during the concert was focused not so much on the band, but on the space around me. I did, however, manage to see a lot of the band performing as well. While it's not like Jennifer Parkin's lyrics came out crystal-clear over the loud music, I was able to catch a lot of it, and was so inspired by them to engage in a kind of weird David Byrne meets Rivethead style of dance. I'm not exactly sure what this must have looked like from the shadowy perspective of the stage, but at points this seems to have gained the attention of Jennifer Parkin, although perhaps this was simply the illusion of stage presence. The nature of the venue lent itself to the audience and performers being in relatively close quarters, a fact Parkin and all the other singers took full advantage of by singing directly to the people in the front row. This immanent energy was aptly complimented by Jeff M's unusually charismatic style of playing keyboards, which has already been described.

Still, if there was immanence to Ayria's performance, there also seemed to be a certain coldness and detachment to it as well, corresponding perhaps to the duality of Parkin's personality. I noticed that most of the songs played live were those that had a strong popular appeal, but not so much those that served as an outlet for difficult personal feelings. Still, have you ever had one of those moments where you look into someone's eyes, and in an instant, you perceive a great sum of their fears and sorrows? I know I had one such moment when, during a particularly candid song in the set, I looked into Jennifer Parkin's eyes, and saw in them the most heartbreaking look of loneliness and desperation. All I could think of at the time (without any intention of taking the Lord's name in vain) was "Oh my God!" Later, when she said she had been having a very hard time of it for three years, I truly believed her and I completely understood. I had had a very hard time of it myself for the past three years, especially this one. I took care to remember to pray for her, and to request that other Christians do so as well (a self-promise I made good on at Theology Web, which has a surprisingly large number of Gothic and Industrial fans). It was perhaps fitting that the last song in the set proper transformed a song filled with existential vertigo into a song filled with visionary horizons.

However, like a good audience, we demanded an encore, and we got it in the form of the Industrial-grade romp 'em stomp 'em dancefloor hit "My Revenge on the World". But soon after it was time for the engines to come to rest, and for Ayria's concert to be over. Wishing us well, Parkin and her comrades left the stage, and soon after my friends and I returned to sit upon the steps, as we had done at the end of the I:Scintilla. I noticed that judging from the mix I was hearing coming from the speakers, the management was having a very hard time selecting music that would complement what we just heard (if I was put in the same situation, I would play Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Switchblade Symphony, ThouShaltNot, and some old-school Electropop). It's not that what we were hearing was bad by any means, just that mixing it all together was obviously quite labored until the DJ finally collapsed into Post-Punk legend Public Image Ltd. in random exhaustion, upon which the unseen DJ was rescued by The Crüxshadows. Speaking only briefly on Ayria's music (both Adam and Maggie liked it, but thought I:Scintilla were better), we soon returned to contemplative silence. It was about this time that Shade came in our vicinity, saw my friends and I sitting together and thought of something oh-so amusing, laughed to himself in an unseemly manner I did not like at all, and soon after left again. I reckoned it probably wasn't a good idea to point out my friend Shade when he was being a jerk, so I didn't say anything about it to my friends. And so confusion reigned until finally the compulsory power of Public Image Ltd.'s weird charm to realize my bizarre Post-Punk trainwreck dance on the dancefloor. Once more, however, my efforts were cut short by the band beginning to set up, and my friends and I took our places to see The Crüxshadows.

The Crüxshadows

In contrast to the relatively new bands playing this concert, The Crüxshadows have been active in the Goth scene since 1992. Known for extensive tours throughout North America, Europe, and Asia, The Crüxshadows have gone on to build a level of popularity and influence that is, frankly, quite legendary. Heavily influenced by New Romantic acts like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and Peter Murphy, The Crüxshadows and their heroic leader, the gallant Rogue, have fused together elements of Darkwave and Electropop with dramatic guitars and strings to play the epic heroes on stage and make the world a better place (oh, how romantic!). Of course, one of the really cool perks of being some kind of inspirational contemporary New Romantic musical hero like Adam Ant is that you build a very dedicated fanbase. Just how dedicated are they? Well, ever since Rogue and his band delivered a massive performance at the 2006 Dragon*Con in promotion for the new Sophia single, The Crüxshadows have made the Billboard Top 10 Hot Singles and Hot Dance Singles charts for a consecutive week with the release of every new single (not bad for an underground band on an independent label). And so, for this 2008 tour with Ayria and I:Scintilla, Rogue and The Crüxshadows ride out in support of the new Immortal single. Will our dashing heroes find similar success in this new quest through America?

But before I can tell of such tales, I must introduce our band of heroes, seven in all. In the lead is the romantic legend, Rogue, known for his passionately resonating vocalization, dramatic stage presence, and gravity-defying hairstyle (which at this time, resembled the long pinions of raven feathers with neon green streaks). Possessing a rare textual clarity for such a loud band, I'm fairly certain I caught every word of the concert, and found myself quite enthralled by Rogue's message and theatricality (it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time). Next up, the incendiary Pyromantic flares up Rogue's vocals with epic electronics on the keyboards and synthesizers, dishing out just the right mix of bold soaring synthlines and Frankenstein Funk. Valerie Gentile, meanwhile, plays the guitar with a monumentally electro-surged crunch, adding just the right amount of additional texture to the electronic sound while linking back to the older guitar based Gothic and New Wave bands. Completing the Crüxshadows sound, JoHanna Moresco and David Wood link to the music of the past with dramatic violins played like the very melody of the heart, whatever it happens to be feeling. The rhythms, of course, were catchy little pattering metal on metal sequences made by a drum machine, and produced off-stage somewhere. So too, because the theatric element of a band like this is just as important as the music itself, Jessica Lackey and Sarah Stewart join as dancers who, whatever they lack in personal modesty, they make up for with elegant form. Finally, while it would be nice to describe everyone's personal appearance, with a band this big, it simply can't be done in a timely manner. The reader should know, however, that everyone in The Crüxshadows were very well dressed (sans the dancers) and looked remarkably resplendent.

It is said that the inspiration for The Crüxshadows came to Rogue in a dream, the first of many that would influence their songwriting. According to Rogue, the meaning of of The Crüxshadows is "the shadows of the cross", and goes on to explain that "When they crucified Christ, it was his most pious followers, the inner circle as it were, that retreated from the crucifixion. That were afraid to be there. It was the outsiders that claimed him as their own, that stood in the shadow of the cross."[4] Applying this principle to his own life's work, Rogue became committed to bringing the message of the power of divine and human self-giving love to outcast people vis-à-vis the Gothic subculture. Apparently, this message has arrived not a moment too soon in the midst of this age of dehumanization, for as explained in a philosophical citation in "Sophia", it is precisely our capacity to empathize and place ourselves into the shoes of another life form that defines "the dividing line between mankind and other biological classifications", and so "Losing this capability among individuals of the species reduces them below their much heralded position, and readies the climate for the likely fall of man, a fall from grace." So, having heard the calling from divine Wisdom to help avert this fate, Rogue steps forth to defend the power of the ideal, drawing amply from the imagery of classical literature and the New Testament for illustration. As such, common lyrical themes of The Crüxshadows include the importance of courage and compassion, the power of self-giving love, the deathless nature of love, faith and doubt, the enigma of God's will, the meaning of life, and the crisis of the current age.

And so, the first thing I remember about The Crüxshadows concert was the fog. Filling the stage like a green mist, the band made their dramatic entrance with a distinct air of mystery. Unfortunately, however, for the first few songs in the set, Rogue's voice was hoarse and strained by natural causes, and his singing came blasting out like a foghorn to still be heard. No doubt it hurt to sing at such a time, but the scene amply proved his personal dedication. Fortunately, by about the third song, Rogue was able to find his normal voice and show us his mettle. And what a mettle it was! I think the most impressive thing about hearing Rogue's voice in a live setting was the sheer resonance and conviction in it. Complimenting the music very well, Rogue danced with a mixture of heroic gestures and subtly funky sway. The reader may notice by now that a lot of this account focuses on Rogue over the other performers. This fact owes largely to Rogue's intense stage presence, which is more than capable of upstaging a titan or anything else that would normally become the center of attention. Don't get me wrong, while Rogue did an admirable job giving the other performers exactly the level of stage presence due for their great skills at exactly the right times, there can be no doubt about who remained the center of the audience's attention. Indeed, I think for the majority of the concert I found myself completely motionless and transfixed on his performance with a certain "oh wow!" look on my face.

I think the two most impressive aspects of The Crüxshadows performance was the brilliant use of theatrical space and the sheer beauty of it all. Making optimum use of the space, the band's synchronization and symmetry as a unit was impeccably aligned with the performance of the music. Not content to simply be a musical actor on the stage, Rogue frequently broke the fourth wall by directly mingling with the audience. At one point he grabbed a stool and sett it up in the middle of the audience to sing and dance amidst the sea of faces, at another he grabbed a member of the audience (he was happy to go along with it) and doing the do-si-do with him in the midst of a rhythmically clapping circle, and so on. I remember that at a different point in the concert, I noticed a charming 30-something Gothic couple doing another traditional form of romantic dance, and I mused about how well the music went along with both old and new styles of dance. So too, when I say that the other most impressive aspect of the concert was it's sheer beauty, it's important to emphasize that, being especially sensitive to beauty and ugliness, whenever something surpasses a certain threshold of beauty, I will lose it and begin to cry. The very same thing had happened to me just two weeks before the concert when my cousin got married in a beautiful garden next to Denver Seminary (how fitting!), and I found myself thinking very hard about the future. It was a glorious scene, but it made me feel like the dying remnant of a ruined age, like the black-veiled parson Mr. Hooper at the pretty young maiden's wedding in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil. I knew at the time that I had to write a poem about that day, the first one I had written in six years, though writing it reminded me a lot of Søren Kierkegaard's dark musings about a poet's work at the beginning of Either/Or.

Well, suffice to say, The Crüxshadows concert was a lot like that too, and I found myself struggling to hold back tears throughout the entire thing. I suppose in it's own way, this writing is a lot like the poem I began after my cousin's wedding as my way of getting my thoughts and feelings out on paper, which explains the obsessive attention to detail I've attached to it (I hope the reader doesn't mind). While it's a bit difficult to explain to anyone who wasn't personally there, to be directly in the presence of such beautiful aural and visual stimuli is truly a marvelous thing. So too, having spent the sum of this year in a state of lonely existential desolation that in retrospect was probably my own personal dark night of the soul, hearing Rogue sing his message proved to be quite a reminder and an awakening to what really matters. When Rogue sang that "the very thing that empties you shall surely make you whole", it was like I knew exactly what he meant. It was only in this past year that I became the embodiment of one of Maulana Hali's stranger poems:

Don't feel perturbed for he is the eternal God
When despair engulfs our hearts
Even atheists tend to call your name
In joyous times it is possible that even children forget their parents
But in times of sorrow it is their mother whom they recall

And so I found myself thinking a lot about the mystical/romantic poem about the search for the Beloved that formed the basis of St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of The Soul. Well, as it so happened, apparently Rogue had of late found his own beloved, and made it known to us all in the form of a romantic interlude with Jessica Lackey. Later, toward the end of the show, Rogue had several big announcements to make to all his fans. The first was that, along with the previous two top ten singles, the new Immortal single had made the Billboard top ten Hot Singles and Hot Dance Singles charts for the third consecutive time! The second was that, a few days after Christmas 2007, he and Jessica had gotten married! While sometimes news travels slow when it comes to new developments in bands (if I had a dollar for every time I surprised people with news that a particular band released a new album...), apparently he and The Crüxshadows had even released a free track for fans through their podcast titled "A Promise Made (Wedding Day)" to commemorate the occasion. Also, he thanked everyone in the audience for "making it out tonight" in spite of "'important things' going on tonight in the world of politics" (cue snickering and laugher from the audience). And so, after naming off the band members and playing a couple more songs, Rogue said his farewells and he and the band made an atypically hasty departure from the stage. Being rather confused about this, Adam explained to me that it is customary in these kinds of concerts for the audience to call out for an encore before the band says their proper farewells.

Particularly happy to oblige in fulfilling this apparently time-honored tradition, we cheered and called out for an encore with an exuberance atypical of the Goth scene. Happy to oblige us, Rogue came out wearing some pretty sweet dark aviator goggles while the rest of the band came back onstage from this way or that. While I've now forgotten what the final two songs played were that night, I distinctly remember that they were very well chosen and well performed. And so, wishing us all a proper farewell, Rogue and The Crüxshadows departed from the stage, and the concert was over. Turning to my friends, all I could think to say was "Umm... wow!", to which Adam aptly replied "Yeah, let's leave it at that!" Being now particularly sensitive to sound after hours of loud music on electric guitars and synthesizers, we mostly engaged in idle banter about our ears and about the concert before falling mercifully silent. It was about this time that I noticed Jennifer Parkin and Jeff M. of Ayria standing by the merchandise booth to meet the audience. I thought about going up and starting a conversation, but I couldn't work up the guts to actually go through with it. And so, soon after, we agreed to depart together one and all, and prepared to embark upon an odyssey of our own, the epic journey of trying to make it home. But that is another story altogether.

Endnotes:

1. How could I resist the temptation for blatant self-advertisement of my Internet radio project in music appreciation class? Batcave Redemption Radio is a Gothic, Industrial, Darkwave, Post-Punk, New Wave, and Electro Internet radio station which can be accessed at either <http://www.myspace.com/batcaveredemption>, or directly at <http://www.shoutcast.com/directory/?s=batcave>.
2. "Compassion International." Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion_International>.
3. Cf. John's Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and Jesus the Sage: the Pilgrimage of Wisdom by Ben Witherington III.
4. "Rogue, from the Cruxshadows, interviewed by Benny Hell." by Benny Hell. VampireFreaks.com. <http://vampirefreaks.com/content/comment.php?entry=100&t=Rogue%2C+from+the+Cruxshadows%2C+interviewed+by+Benny+Hell>
5. Maulana Hali as quoted in "Iman" by Niyaz from the album Nine Heavens.