WEB EXTRA: Jars of Clay offer a different sort of Christian rock

For most people, Christian Rock is synonymous with bad music: think P.O.D.’s Nu Metal or Creed’s preachy version of Pearl-Jam-lite. But with the 1995 acoustic rock hit “Flood,” Jars of Clay established themselves as one of the few Christian Rock groups able to transcend the “Jesus music” category to reach a broad audience, and make great music in the process.

If you give Jars of Clay a second listen after “Flood,” you’ll find one of the few bands committed to voicing a socially conscious message – while seamlessly blending orchestral harmonies, gospel choir Hallelujahs, and classic rock ‘n’ roll. Last Thursday, the band from a small-town Illinois college brought their brand of Jesus rock to Lisner Auditorium, where an energized crowd of parents, youth pastors, and middle school church kids came as close to moshing and body surfing as the Lisner auditorium will allow.

But Jars of Clay reaches more than just church-going folk. The band has a way of writing feel-good music with a message that doesn’t make you feel like you need to be waving your arms in the air or on your knees praying – just singing along to honest-to-God good music. I think that’s why Thursday’s show ended up drawing as many 20-somethings as youth group kids. And why, if you try to buy their albums in any music store, you’ll just as often find Jars of Clay under Rock as Gospel.

Jars’ substantial fan base is as much of a testimony to their musical talent as their ability to fit a socially conscious message into rock n’ roll. Unlike Creed’s Scott Stapp, whose recent DUI and sex-tape scandals have exposed the hypocricy behind some mainstream Christian music, Jars of Clay back up their Christian message with good deeds.

On Thursday, lead singer Dan Haseltine took a break during the show from bouncing all over the stage and grinning while belting out the older Jars songs for a serious moment about the band’s charity work. Five years ago, he and the rest of the band started Blood:Water Mission, a project that aims to get African villages what they need at the most basic level: clean blood and clean water. They’ve raised thousands of dollars and built wells in seven African countries with the goal of completing 1,000 wells. Haseltine reminded concert-goers that we rarely make decisions reflecting the fact that our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world are hungry and thirsty, but Blood:Water gives us the opportunity to do just that. After a short but sincere appeal to drop a dollar in the buckets on the way out church offering style, Jars got back to the music with a few songs inspired by their trips to Kenya and Rwanda.

So if you’re interested in checking out the good side of the Christian rock scene, Jars of Clay is your best bet. Even if you miss some references to the New Testament, you’ll probably agree with their message: “All the comforts of cathedrals / All the cries of thirsty children – this is our inheritance. / All the rage of watching mothers – this is our greatest offense.” It’s a message that transcends religion: if we all did what we have the power to do to help each other, we’d be a lot better off.

And I’ll give extra points to any of you hipsters who know everything about every band ever if you can tell me where Jars got their name. Because it would make my day to have one of you quoting scripture.

-Amanda Hess contributed to this piece

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