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Concert Review: Jars of Clay – Ford Center, Oklahoma City, 10/5/2008

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Fifteen years and dozens of releases later, it’s a little strange to see Jars of Clay as the opening act.

Along with Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Switchfoot, and Third Day, Jars of Clay is just about to wrap up the Music Builds tour, with part of the proceeds going to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

You have to credit the tour organizers for putting together a nicely diverse and talented set of artists to benefit a great cause. Even though Third Day isn’t my cup of tea, Robert Randolph and Switchfoot put on great live shows, and Jars of Clay is one of those bands that I’ve stuck with throughout their entire career, and I’ve been continually impressed with the maturation of their songwriting and style.

So, I was a little disappointed when, inevitably, the band opened with their tried-and-true fan favorite “Flood.” Maybe A Walk to Remember ruined the song for me; maybe I just wish they could get a little more recognition for some of their superior recent work. Either way, if they stopped playing the song for good tomorrow, I’d be all for it.

It didn’t help that the levels were way off in the cavernous Ford Center, and the bass was disproportionately loud in a way that would have made me nervous if I had a pacemaker. But after the rough opener, things seemed to even out, and the band followed it up with “Love is the Protest,” an exclusive from the band’s recent greatest hits collection.

It was nice to hear the band expand the setlist to include some newer tracks like “Closer” off their latest EP and “Heaven,” a track from their upcoming studio album that lead singer Dan Haseltine said is tentatively scheduled for a March 2009 release. For the setting, these upbeat rock-oriented songs were an appropriate choice.

There was some more nostalgia with “Love Song for a Savior” and “I Need You,” which both are holding up a lot better than “Flood,” and for me, are a pretty pure representation of early Jars of Clay.

The band finished its eight-song set with “Work” and “Dead Man (Carry Me)” from the band’s latest and easily their best album, Good Monsters. Again, it was clear that as an opening act in a large, impersonal arena, Jars of Clay went for what was well-known and what was upbeat, and I really should have known better what to expect, but I was a little disappointed.

Jars of Clay is at its best when it embraces the rootsy, melancholy or introspective elements of its sound. The band has plenty of these songs, but when forced through the sieve of arena rock, they don’t have much chance of making it through.

Even the normally shaggy-haired Haseltine was sporting a faux-hawk and was all over the stage trying to energize the initially tepid crowd. It seemed to signal he had embraced his role as the concert opener, and you can’t blame him or the band for that.

Jars of Clay is one of the most talented and important bands in the history of Contemporary Christian Music, and it almost seems an insult to categorize them as such, considering how far they’ve surpassed their peers in depth and musical ability.

Outside the arena, and given the status as main act they certainly deserve, Jars of Clay would be far more at home.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.