Through and Through Gospel Review, Crescent Ballroom, 7/14/12

Through and Through Gospel Review Crescent Ballroom Saturday, July 14, 2012

See also: Download: Gospel Claws' New Song, "Pale Horse Dry Cleaning" See also: Joel Marquard Fought Cancer and The Indie Community Chips in To Help Him Out

Despite Joel Marquard's adamant assertion that the Americana/roots sounds of his full-blooded gospel project Through and Through Gospel Review are "all in fun" and without heavy theological implications, it was impossible not to sense the spiritual weight of the music last night.

Opening with "I'm Not Dead, I'm Alive," it was clear that Marquard, whose battle with testicular cancer was the reason the audience was there to see a massive lineup of Phoenix's biggest rock 'n' roll bands, taps into gospel traditions that run deeper than "whatever is one sale at Urban Outfitters" tastes, and that no matter how the band dressed (faux-Dust Bowl) or joked (faux-Southern accents), there was a soulful truth to the ringing lyrics of the hymn: "I'm not dead, I'm alive, and I'm looking/for a place to hang my head when I die."

The show's massive lineup, which included ROAR, Yellow Minute, Ladylike, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, Gospel Claws, and What Laura Says, benefited Marquard's presentation of the Gospel Review sounds. The record -- which came out last year, and found its way onto my favorite albums of 2011 list -- remains a haunting listen today.

With its choruses of multi-tracked vocals, the record was begging to be played live, and with a sympathetic cast featuring members of most of the aforementioned bands, plus support from Rob Withem of Fine China, Shane Kennedy of Where Dead Voices Gather, Rachel Ludeman, J.D. Stooks, Bob Hoag, Becky Lee, members of Gospel Claws, and Marquard's former Dear and the Headlights partner P.J. Waxman, Marquard was able to stage the record the way it deserves, somewhere between the club and the church, swelling with massive sounds.

It was -- like everyone's sets -- a short but powerful one. "Do You Know My King," perhaps inspired by the sermon of the same name given by Baptist preacher Shadrach Meshach Lockridge, found the band abandoning most stringed instruments in favor of African-flavored percussion, drawing inevitable comparisons to Paul Simon's Graceland.

"Don't Let It Die,"a song that illuminated Marquard's gospel roots when originally performed with Gospel Claws, was recast as an utter rave-up. The stage packed with friends and fellow musicians armed with wood blocks, Waxman picked out a minimal blues riff on electric guitar, while the assembled crowd shouted out lyrics, stomped, and clapped their percussion devices.

Marquard sang "Born on the Edge of a Sword" with Waxman, and the intimacy of the moment set the stage for the revelry that would follow. Finishing with "When the Lord Came Down," Gospel Claws drummer Scott Hall joined the crew on stage to smash a glass pane framed by a rickety wood structure of Marquard's design. As Marquard banged on pots and pans, Hall smashed at the glass, protected by eyewear and draped in white towels.

The crowd cheered for more, but that was it. "Peaceful Valley," a harmonious recording Marquard's father made in 1967, piped in from the speakers, and made for a disorienting walk into the lounge, where DJ Sean Watson was in the midst of his bumping Kismet set. The parallels and clashes played in my head during the ride home. Like electro or dance, gospel music is at its core pop music. Not in a top 40 sense, but in a "music of the people" way. Those hymns -- the Fanny J. Crosby compositions that so clearly inspired Marquard's own makeshift God-fearing odes -- were the words of the people, singing in unity about common things, things they shared and aspirations for redemption and transcendence.

I wonder if any of our own pop music will ring as true in 50 years. Will the records we pick for our best of 2012 lists and the MP3s we pass around our social networks, still sound resolute in the light of changed culture and progression? I'm going to be optimistic and say that, yeah, a few of them will. The truly good ones, not beholden to any time or place, not wrapped up in a stylistic trend, songs willing to face the big truths -- faith, fear, death, hope, love -- without winking irony or bleary sentimentality, will live on. They are rare songs, these hymns to the unknown, but they speak through us and for us, and that's really all we can ask them to do.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Through and Through Gospel Review, What Laura Says, Snake! Snake! Snakes!, Gospel Claws, Ladylike, Yellow Minute, ROAR at Crescent Ballroom.

The Crowd: Drunk and buzzy on a cool night.

Less Really Is More: Tight, compact sets from local bands? Quick tear-down and setup? Not killing three or four minutes between songs? Well, I'll be.

Marquard quote: "I have CDs over there. They're $10. Or $20."

Random Notebook Dump: I could do without the fake Southern accents.

A Quick Flannery O'Connor Quote, Because Who Knows When I'll Get a Chance to Use This in A Concert Review Again: "Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown."

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.