It's hard to believe, but The Kross (KCRX, 100.3FM) is celebrating its 4th birthday this weekend. Has it really been that long? Man, time flies.
I can still remember when 101.5FM flipped formats and "Live 101.5" became Tulsa's first real Christian rock station. I thought it was kind of cool, even though I nearly ran off the road the first morning while checking to see if my radio settings were correct. (Imagine my surprise when it flipped again a year later and I got P. Diddy instead of Relient K as I went for donuts.)
By the time The Kross hit the airwaves, I couldn't wait for another good Christian rock station. And if I was getting tired of Steven Curtis Chapman, Caedmon's Call, Mercy Me and the rest of the mellow CCM format, I can only imagine how many youth groups in Tulsa were preparing to stage a revolt.
Luckily, KXOJ (which is approaching 30 this year, by the way) spun off a sister station to fill the gap and The Kross was born. Yes, there have been a few tweaks to the format, but KCXR is still standing four years later -- which is no minor feat considering the fact that it's one of four Christian FM stations currently in town.
In order to celebrate the station's relative longevity, The Kross is hosting a concert for its 4th birthday and bringing in Disciple and Decyfer Down, a couple of the hottest bands on the circuit, for the show.
In case you're not familiar with Disciple, they are one of the leading bands in the genre and seniors (in longevity, success, and status) in the school of Christian hard-rock, on par with contemporaries like Pillar and Skillet. Lead vocalist Kevin Young and the rest of the band have been together for over 10 years, outlasting many other bands in their marketplace.
With seven albums and multiple tours under its belt, Disciple shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Disciple's two latest CD's, 2005's Disciple and last year's Scars Remain, are the band's best and most successful yet.
Some of the recent success could be accounted for by band's most recent deal with INO/SRE Records and the label's distribution via Columbia, which is getting the CDs out to a broader retail segment. Lead singer Kevin Young gives much of the credit, however, to producer Travis Wyrick, who has worked with Disciple on all of their albums (and is known for his work with Pillar). According to Young, the latest discs show how much both have matured since they began working together.
"Part of the reason is that we're really a live band," said Young. "In my opinion, we've always been a better live band and the CDs are finally catching up with our show."
Another part of that development has come from the band's considering which songs will both sound great on CD and go over well in a concert setting. As a result, the band's live energy is starting to translate to disc.
It's not only Christian audiences that are taking notice of the band, though. Disciple's latest single, "Game On," was used by multiple television sports shows this past fall for their highlight reels.
Young says that although the title was loosely drawn from the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) slogan "Game Ready", the song was really written in response to the War in Iraq. As Kevin related it, "Game On" was written around the time that al-Zarqawi was killed early last summer, which started him thinking about the war on terror and his response to it as a Christian.
"I think God has called us to be selfless and turn the other cheek, but we're also called to defend our families and our beliefs," said Young. Kevin acknowledges that the many aspects of the war make it a grey area for some, but, "For us, it's black and white."
Despite a lyrical bridge that gets the political and spiritual message across with the lyrics "I'm not afraid of loving my enemies / Turning the other cheek / Blessing those that would curse me / I honestly want peace with you," sports programming was drawn to the song's chorus of "When the lights go up and the game is on / Are you ready for me 'cause I'm ready for you."
The song has recently popped up on ESPN's NFL live, the NFL network, Fox Sports and Speed TV. Most notably, "Game On" was used as the theme song for a November WWE pay per view event.
When asked what the band thinks of the TV utilization, Young recognizes that it has exposed the band to a broad, new audience.
"It's been our motto from the beginning to write what's true to us. If someone then wants to use it, that's great," said Kevin.
While grateful for the opportunities, the band is careful to remain focused and not cater outside agendas.
"We feel very blessed and fortunate and we want to give God the glory," he said.
Make no mistake, Disciple is clearly a Christian band and determined to not be distracted, but they can still rock with the best.
Decyfer Down is relatively new to many Christian rock fans, but they've quickly gone to the head of the class. Their debut album (also on the SRE label), Out of the Grey, was released last June and quickly won over a large audience as the first two singles, "Break Free" and "Life Again," shot to number one on the Christian rock charts. Now the latest single, "No Longer," officially released just a couple of weeks ago, appears poised to do the same.
According to drummer Josh Oliver, the band is trying to create a story with its songs in order to draw people in and get them to hear its message. As such, the band chose to follow up "Life Again," which is about establishing (or reestablishing) a relationship with God, with "No Longer," one of the older songs in the band's catalogue.
In explaining the current single, Oliver shared that often, "It's not just about allowing God to forgive us, but forgiving ourselves as well. A lot of times, we continue to beat ourselves up."
"No Longer" deals with letting go of shame and starting over.
The band hasn't just been impressing radio listeners -- they've also been winning over their peers. I ran into Pillar guitarist, Noah Henson, recently and he had nothing but great things to say about Decyfer Down after completing the first leg of the "Days of Reckoning" tour with the group. According to Henson, Decyfer Down has the entire package: solid, well-written songs, a charismatic stage presence and a great live show.
As Oliver tells it, Decyfer Down and Pillar crossed paths for the first time at Shoutfest last fall. The band got a call a couple of weeks later asking them join the "Days of Reckoning" tour to fill in for Kids in the Way, who dropped off the bill at the last minute.
Fortunately, Decyfer Down's schedule was open at the time and they were able to fill the slot. As a result, the two bands have become good friends, even sharing a van when Pillar's tour bus broke down in the upper Northwest during the tour.
After playing over 200 live dates last year, 2007 promises to be just as busy. Decyfer Down starts the year by joining the Disciple tour until March, and then goes out with Seventh Day Slumber later in the spring before gearing up for another tour package that is currently being planned for the summer.
For now, Oliver says the band is excited about the current shows, which kick off this week, as they've wanted to go out with Disciple for some time now and the timing finally worked out.
The Kross birthday concert is this Friday night, January 19, at The Otherside, with Disciple, Decyfer Down and another new band, Fireflight, opening the show.
It's an all-ages show and tickets are $10 in advance at The Kross studios (55th floor of the Citiplex Towers, 81st and Lewis) or Lifeway Christian Bookstore (71st and Highway 169). Check it out to see what hot in Christian rock right now.
The Weekly Roundup
There are just too many good shows to choose from this weekend. From major tours to local club acts, I'm at a loss. Does anyone hold the secret to cloning or time travel? If so, please share so I can hit multiple shows at once.
The Soundpony gets things kicked off early this week with a Thursday night show by Slight of Mind, and then dives into the weekend, hosting Fincannon on Friday and Purple Cow Story with Two-Headed Phantom on Saturday, January 20.
If you're not a planning on hitting the aforementioned Disciple concert, the most highly anticipated show of the month hits the Cain's Ballroom on Friday night, January 19. Jeff Tweedy is in town for a solo turn, his first time back since last year's Wilco show. A limited number of reserved seats have already sold out and some general admission tickets are still available, but you'd better get yours quick. Tweedy and Wilco fans are a loyal bunch and the buzz has been growing on this show for a few weeks now. Remaining tickets are $24 in advance or you can risk it selling out at the door.
The other big show that's got tongues wagging this weekend is actually at a small venue: Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at Tsunami on both Friday and Saturday night (see more on page 38). This one came together rather quietly, but word spread quickly. Cover is only $5 at the door on the 19th and 20th. Get there early, because the room will be packed.
And lest I forget, the Reverend himself, Al Green, returns to town on Saturday with a show at the Osage Events Center at Million Dollar Elm Casino. Reserved seats are $20 and $30 each, while table seating for the "high rollers" is $250 per person before service charges. Capitol records just released another "Greatest Hits" disc to milk the back catalogue, but Green also began work on a new record for Blue note this past October. Hopefully we'll get a little preview of what's to come as well as a healthy dose of the classics.
And the others
If you can't get in to either Tweedy or JFJO on Friday, you have a few more options. Mercury Lounge hosts My-Tea Kind as the weekend starts and Jesse Aycock will be playing at Arnie's. Cover is $5 for each. I expect you'll even see Jesse pop his head in across the street at Tsunami between his own sets.
On Saturday night, January 20, the local clubs get even busier. The Pinkeye hosts an all-ages metal show at 7pm with Remainder Theory, 7 Dollar Stare, Downfall, My Dead X, Moira and Aesthetic. Admission is $8 at the door.
Over at 18th and Boston, Mercury Lounge has a mixed bill that will see plenty of beer flowing. Psychobilly kingpins Billy Joe Winghead will share the stage with Irish folk-punk favorites Larkin and cover is only $5.
Moving downtown, Dustin Pittsley and TJ McFarland will be at Arnie's on Saturday and Math Lab and GHOSTS will be stirring up the apparitions at Deadtown Tavern.
Finally, Mooch and Burn has a stacked lineup (and six-point beer) for a 9pm show on Saturday, January 20. My Solstice (Brandon Davis' new band) is making an appearance, along with Optimistic To A Fault, Downstate, and First Lady Assassins capping off the bill.
After that, the week cools down a bit, but it's always a good idea to take a little mid-week break to relax. Next Wednesday would be a great time to de-stress and enjoy glass of wine with Susan Herndon at Vintage 1740.
Looking forward to next week, Red Dirt and Texas music fans need to plan ahead. Randy Rogers Band and Brandon Jenkins will be at the Cain's Ballroom on Thursday night, January 25. Tickets are $9 in advance or $13 at the door.
I'll see you again next week. Until then, be safe and support your local music scene.
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