Freaks of the Week

IN ROCK & ROLL, nothing sells quite like a sharable sense of persecution, and that was perfectly clear watching Christian supergroup DC Talk roar through their hit "Jesus Freak" in front of nearly 11,000 shrieking fans last Friday at Target Center in Minneapolis. The song is the title cut from their latest album, a catchy rock anthem whose narrator worries about, then affirms his identity: "People say I'm strange, does it make me a stranger/That my best friend was born in a manger?" Cue the drop-kneed guitar solo.

Jesus Freak is the fastest-selling Christian pop album ever, debuting at number 16 on the Billboard Top 200 in December, and selling over 85,000 copies in its first week of release. It also has a video directed by Simon Maxwell, best known for Nine Inch Nails's "Hurt" clip. Begun as a multiracial Christian rap group based in Washington, D.C. (the initials in their name are also supposed to stand for "Decent Christian"), DC Talk's new record attempts to broaden both their sound and their audience. It's full of slick funk-rock arrangements with a few rap touches. More significantly, it's got lyrics that mirror the sort of self-doubt, even self-loathing, that's become de rigueur in alternative rock circles.

It's all, in fact, pretty well done. But there's something a little creepy about their embrace of secular pop, which is never done for its own sake, but always with a superimposed Christian message. Among the covers the band performed Friday was R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It," which got remade with altered lyrics impossible to make out in the echoing caverns of the Target Center (something to do with the Rapture, I think). And "Jesus Freak" ended with a segment of Nirvana's "All Apologies," but with the couplet "What more can I say?/Everyone is gay" changed to "What more can I say?/Jesus is the way." In typical Christian rock fashion, the concert ended with a sermon, which here addressed Kurt Cobain and personal suffering. "[He] took drastic measures to escape his pain... I don't think he made the right decision. Our hearts go out to him; we used to pray for him a lot."

Heretical? Well, Cobain probably wasn't looking to become a martyr for pop missionaries to rally around when he checked out of this world. Yet it was tough to argue with the group's progressive, inclusive vision of Christianity. Or with the crowd, a mix of mostly young teens, pre-teens, and their parents, who were on their feet throughout, doing some well-mannered dancing, and screaming and stomping between songs more loudly than anything I've ever heard before at an arena concert (the audience at Hole's last Target appearance was demure by comparison). There was even a little mosh pit off to the side of the stage that singers Kevin Smith, Michael Tait, and Toby McKeehan repeatedly hurled themselves into, sometimes in flamboyant backflips and somersaults. With a Christian mosh pit, I suppose, you can be certain you'll always be caught.

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