Jesus, rock and the Underground

Josh Reeves from Illuminate

Josh Reeves from Illuminate

In a music-industry environment that bemoans falling record sales with clockwork regularity, the Christian-music segment is an enigma. Though the Recording Industry Association of America reported an overall 7-percent decrease in sales for 2001, the Christian Music Trade Association reported that total 2001 revenues for Christian-music CDs and cassettes sold in the United States increased 8 percent from the previous year’s figures. Perhaps this is an important indicator of a sea change in musical tastes, a turn toward something overtly moral in the face of a post-9/11 world.

So, it’s no great surprise that a suburban church in Roseville has converted its youth-ministry room into a rock club. The good news is that the Underground (inside the Valley Springs Presbyterian Church at 2401 Olympus Drive) is perhaps the highest-quality all-ages suburban club I have seen. There are many examples of coffeehouses in the Sacramento outskirts that put on makeshift weekend shows, but the Underground’s performance area is anything but makeshift. The venue features a staggered, curtained stage complete with drum riser, professional lighting and sound system, and a full staff (security, sound and light tech, etc.).

Although the Underground books a variety of Christian and non-Christian music (particularly music aimed toward teens and young adults), last Friday night’s show featured an evening of all-Christian hardcore bands, which stirred the sizeable young audience into a moshing, arm-swinging and heavily ironic frenzy. The irony derived from the proselytizing of such musicians as Illuminate’s lead singer and guitarist, Josh Reeves, who spoke briefly between songs about his religious beliefs, inviting audience members to speak to him or any of the band members about Jesus Christ. Following the brief speech, the band launched into a hardcore number that featured Reeves’ vocal technique, a wordless, repeated single syllable screamed at throat-tearing volumes: “Waaaah! Waah waaah! Waaah!”

In a religion based on words, the religious and musical position of Illuminate, Stars Are Falling and other bands on the bill last Friday seemed fraught with irony. After all, at the risk of generalizing a complex religious tradition, Christianity’s emphasis on the words of its prophets is of utmost importance. Hardcore music, an offshoot of both punk and metal, does not emphasize the lyrical content often—in large part, because the lyrical content is unintelligible—and so the choice of hardcore as a method by which to preach seems strange at best.

On the other hand, the Underground—on the Web at—did bring a decent-sized group of teens into the church on a Friday night (and when the moshing started, believers and non-believers in the crowd seemed equally at home). In those terms, perhaps the mission is successful. As youth pastor and venue co-manager Rick Sisson noted, “It’s a postmodern world. Gone are the days when we could hold a Friday-night rally and expect anyone to show up.”

In any case, Roseville offers scant opportunities to see all-ages live music, particularly in a venue as clean and professional as the Underground. Particularly noteworthy are December dates with Hanover Saints and local punk legends the Hoods.