Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Behold the Lamb of God (2006)

Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God has established itself as an integral part of Team Redd's Christmas festivities. In addition to enjoying the album, we've also had the privilege of experiencing the Christmas musical live each year since its inception, including each of the Nashville shows. Each year's concert is magical, and this year's was no different.

Nashville, TN -- 12/6

For the third straight year, the Nashville concert has been held at the historic Ryman Theater -- an appropriate venue for the army of talented musicians that Andrew enlists each year. Writing a review of the show is an interesting task, since the show is basically the same each year ... but really it isn't. The performance of Behold the Lamb of God remains fantastic and fresh each time, and each year a different nuance of instrumentation or lyric catches my attention. Even the "in the round" portion follows a familiar pattern each year, from Andrew's "hobbit" references to Derek Webb, to the obligatory Andy Gullahorn comic relief song, to the displays of mind-boggling instrumental prowess by musical guests. But again, these well-worn grooves never become tiresome.

Here are a few notes from this year's show:

(Note: There are way too many guys named "Andy" involved with this performance, so Andrew Peterson will be designated as "AP." Also, some of this might be non-chronological.)

  • AP performed an opening song ("The Far Country"), and he then introduced the evening's format. In honor of the special evening, AP had written a limerick for each of the "in the round" performers. He assured us that the word "Nantucket" would not appear in any of his rhymes.

  • Derek Webb's introductory limerick referenced his successful journey with the One Ring to Mount Doom. Before playing his song ("A King & A Kingdom"), he explained that "in the round" is really just Nashville-speak for "if you hate the person who's currently playing, you won't have to wait long to hear someone else."

  • Sandra McCracken joined Derek for her number ("Shelter"). AP used her introductory limerick to stress the fact that Derek married up.

  • Randall Goodgame talked briefly about his latest collaboration with AP, a children's album called Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies. Basically, the album is to help kids remember that God made them, and also that they could be eaten by animals at any time. Randall sang "Bears," with BGV's provided by AP, Andy G., and Andy Osenga.

  • Eric Peters made a long-overdue BTLOG appearance, complete with his usual self-deprecating humor. ("[Playing with this assortment of talented musicians] I feel like a piece of spoiled lettuce in an otherwise delicious sandwich.") Of course, he then proceeded to belt out a terrific performance ("You Can Be Yourself").

  • Andy Osenga arrived at the show straight from the hospital, as his wife had given birth to their second daughter just two days prior. Osenga is an amazing dude, because he can flat-out wail, both vocally and on guitar. He delivered a great song ("New Beginning," with a few lines rewritten to align with his daughter's birth) and also indicated that he was returning to the hospital after the show, to take his new daughter home for the first time.

  • Andy Gullahorn lamented the fact that he was performing without his wife, Jill Phillips, who was vocally-impaired due to illness that evening. Nevertheless, Andy G. was terrific. He described his song "More of a Man" as being "basically about the feminization of man," noting how marriage and fatherhood have carried him far from his days of hunting and working on a farm, ushering him into the world of Dora the Explorer, salads, and Gilmore Girls on DVD. As with many of his songs, Andy G. makes the transition from comic to poignant almost seamlessly.

  • Ron Block, of Alison Krauss and Union Station fame, sang a rollicking country/Gospel number, with lyrics punctuated by blistering lead guitar breaks. He's just as phenomenal on guitar as he is on banjo (which is very).

  • Sara Groves played two of her songs. I'm not too familiar with her work, but I enjoyed her set.

  • Pierce Pettis also played a couple of unfamiliar songs, which were both really good. It has been a real treat to see Pierce join AP at the Ryman for the past three years. He truly is a brilliant songwriter.

  • After a brief intermission, Andrew and friends presented Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ. If you haven't heard this album yet, you really have no excuse, since you can stream it through AP's website. This album highlights why AP is one of the finest songwriters around. Instead of taking a familiar approach to Christmas, AP begins in the Old Testament and establishes the narrative context for the coming of Christ. (Yay for narrative!) And it doesn't hurt that he has plenty of talented musicians to support him in the telling of The Story.

    In addition to the artists above, AP's band included Garrett Buell (of Caedmon's Call) on drums, Cason Cooley (as seen on Conan O'brien) on bass, a string section led by the illustrious Marcus Myers (of Silers Bald), Steve Hindalong on percussion, Josh Coffey on mandolin, Kurt Heinecke (of Veggie Tales) on various flutes and whistles, the superb Ben Shive and the incomparable Gabe Scott. (Ben and Gabe were probably tied for most instruments played during the night.) Part of the enjoyment was watching the ballet of seamless instrument transitions between and during songs. Sandra sang the lead vocal in Jill Phillips' stead for "Labor of Love," and she did a fantastic job. Actually, everyone involved did a wonderful job. With all the vocal talent available, the harmonies were lush and glorious. And the musicians had plenty of opportunities to shine, especially during the instrumental versions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "The Holly and the Ivy."

    Each year, we often get asked why on earth we trek to Nashville to see a concert, and sometimes we end up asking ourselves the same question. But as soon as the show starts, we know the answer. And once the show ends, a new question forms: how long until the next concert?

    (As an added Square Peg Alliance bonus: we ran into Matthew Perryman Jones at dinner before the show. And I have to agree: McDougal's Village Coop has some of the best chicken tenders ever!)

    Fayetteville, GA -- 12/8

    Providentially, the question of "how long until next time" was answered quickly, as the BTLOG tour made a stop just south of Atlanta. In past years, the Christmas tour has been a stripped-down version of the Nashville show, but this year there wasn't that much stripping down. Instrumentally, the string section was missing, as were Ron, Steve and Kurt. Pierce, Randall, Sara and Andy O. were not present either, but the rest of the vocalists were, including a recuperated Jill Phillips. Needless to say, the touring band was still a musical ensemble of extraordinary magnitude. The format was similar to the Ryman show, although each artist (except AP) played two songs in the round. I won't re-hash the concert in detail, but here are some highlights:

  • AP kicked off the night with a new song called "Four Loves" (which, incidentally, is not based on the C.S. Lewis book).

  • Derek also played a new song, and Sandra quipped that she always hears his songs for the first time at concerts.

  • Andy G. cracks me up. He played the same song as he did at the Ryman, but with slight variations on the intro story. The deadpan delivery kills me every time.

  • In addition to possessing mad mandolin skillz, Josh Coffey plays a mean fiddle.

  • Eric Peters filled in for Andy Osenga, and I was curious how Eric was going to handle some of the vocal wailing parts. But he absolutely nailed them. It was pretty awesome.

  • I cannot reiterate how much "the man" that Gabe Scott is. Not only does he play multiple instruments during the show, he's also intimately involved with the support roles that make the show happen. I expected to see him working with the stage set-up/breakdown, but I didn't expect to see him working the merch table after the show. What an awesome guy.

  • One final note: The concert was part of the Dickens Village that the hosting church presents each year. It was kind of surreal to hear street urchins announcing an Andrew Peterson concert with fake British accents.

    We certainly enjoyed both shows, but, alas, the BTLOG tour steams on, leaving Team Redd behind. If AP and friends happen to come near your area, please check them out. As for me and my household, we'll have to make do with the cd version until next year.

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