Let there be no mistake about it, I like Rich's music, but I have made up my mind. I enjoy Rich's spoken ministry more. Every time I see Rich in concert, I am thouroughly inspired with a renewed perspective of life as a child of God, and this concert was certainly no exception.
The evening began with several members of the Rich Mullins Mailing List meeting at Quizno's Classic Subs in downtown Wichita near Century II for dinner and a chat. Many of those in attendance had never met before, other than in cyberspace. After some great sandwiches, we all walked over to the Century II Concert Hall for the first of two nights in Wichita for Rich.
The Concert Hall is the same room where Rich did his farewell concert over a year and half ago (see [RichMailList 16]). The stage was setup much the same. Gay Quisenberry, Rich's manager, kicked the show off at 7:30pm, and after a few announcements, brought out Rich and the Ragamuffins. They all gathered around a couple microphones and opened with a neat arrangement of "I Will Sing", and then immediately into "Sing Your Praise To The Lord."
Rich did most of the standard crowd pleasers right up front, including "Awesome God", and my personal favorite "If I Stand" (which also just happened to be the favorite on this mailing list last May, see [RichMailList 64]). Ragamuffin members Jimmy A, Rick Elias (also with the Wondermuffins), Mark Robertson (also with This Train), and Mitch McVicker (also as St Frank in "Canticle Of The Plains") all had their chance to be featured.
During the concert almost after every song, Rich would turn to Rick or Aaron and mouth "What's next?" It was a bit humorous, yet not so obvious that everyone noticed. At one point, when Rich was told the next song, he responded out loud, "Oh good, I like that one!" He then told us that he really liked all his songs - after all, it seemed silly that anyone would write a song if you're not going to like it. Even though Rich was sometimes not sure what was next, everything went very smoothly, considering also how many different instruments were used, and the variety of performers.
I should take this opportunity to apologize to those that drove many miles to see this concert with the understanding there was going to be more of the "Canticle Of The Plains". Though I indicated (as I had been led to believe) that there might be more of the musical, there ended up only being two songs. I can only assume that, because the Ragamuffins don't play together regularly (with all their individual projects), they didn't have enough time to prepare for more than the two songs. Many of us got to hear pretty much the whole musical and a narrative interview with Rich and Mitch the following Sunday in a world premier broadcast on KTLI Light 99 FM. Since Light 99 broadcasts 24 hours a day on the World Wide Web as a RealAudio broadcast, it gave a whole new validity to the overused phrase "world premier". For those that wanted more at the concert, and also for those who missed the world premier, I will be posting the transcript of the broadcast. (See [RichMailList 113]: Canticle Premier Transcript) I've heard both "Canticle" songs in previous concerts, but it was the first time I got to hear them with the band (I just love Aaron Smith's drumming). "Heaven Is Waiting" is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.
During the first set the stage crew, which consisted partially of the members of This Train, were kept very busy moving different percussion instruments on and off the stage. Beginning with "John", an instrumental song Rich named for his dad, there were about four songs in a row that used a wide variety and combination of instruments including two hammer dulcimers, a lap dulcimer, upright electric bass, mandolins, wood blocks, vibes, and even one of those big marching band bass drums. The last of those four was "Why Do The Nations Rage," and Rich shared he had written it originally for Ronald Reagan. Since he wasn't president anymore, he wanted to dedicate it to our current president ... and her husband. That got a big laugh from the crowd; big enough that I'm sure some missed his next jab, which was, "I have tuned my guitar for the benefit of the village." Some songs had lots of instrumentation, some were just Rich on piano, and one neat arrangement was Rick Elias singing Rich's "The Breaks" with just Rick on acoustic guitar, Mark on upright bass, and Rich, Mitch, and Jimmy on background vocals. It seems that every concert there is at least one song where Rich forgets the words. This time it was "Calling Out Your Name", and he got lost on the second half of the first verse that refers to Kansas. However, later in the song he worked in the Keeper Of The Plains, a 44-foot tall statue at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers in downtown Wichita. While he was trying to recover, he just sang, "I've forgotten the words, and I don't really care." Funny stuff.
Next were two songs from the "Canticle Of The Plains", and as mentioned we'll have a complete transcript online of Rich and Mitch telling us that story in detail. (See [RichMailList 113]: Canticle Premier Transcript) I did want to share one thing that Rich mentioned this evening that I could really relate to. He was describing "Heaven Is Waiting" as a song that Frank does when he's having one of those moments of commitment to Jesus like you used to have every summer at youth camp. Then you got a little bit older and you started doing it almost monthly. "I'm forty. I'm doing it every day already, and I'm kinda going, there's not enough hours in the day by the time I'm 80, for me to do it all the time."
After the break, it was time for This Train. Mark Robertson and his kooky sense of humor was featured with his four piece band. They rocked the house with three songs from their "You're Soaking In It" album. To introduce "Monster Truck", Mark explained that he has a real problem with sappy love songs, and doesn't like writing them. However he had met the girl of his dreams ("What was her name again?"), and he decided for her, he would write a love song, but that he had to do it in a way that he could still feel proud about it. "I don't know for sure that the song is the reason she said no." The song was their first big hit, and if you don't have the album, you need to get it. Good tunes and good fun.
One of my favorites during the concert was "Screen Door" with it's cup passing/percussion routine, but the moment that received possibly the biggest reaction from crowd was up next. Rich walked out after This Train, and introduced Rick Elias and the Wondermuffins, and as the Ragamuffins all walked out, they were magically transformed as they all donned shiny gold dinner jackets over black turtlenecks. Rick did a couple really 60's sounding songs from the "That Thing You Do" soundtrack. I haven't seen it yet, but my girls loved that movie, and went around for days singing the title track (one of few Rick didn't co-write).
As I'd said at the beginning, the highlight of the concert for me was listening to Rich just tell his stories and share his philosophy of life - mostly stories of growing up. Except for frequent bursts of laughter at Rich's unique sense of humor, the whole audience was completely silent as we sat and listened to the spontaneous wisdom that also brings us the lyrics from the heart of God. I could go on and on, but I'll just say that you must see Rich live to appreciate it.
When Rich came out for what has become his standard prayer and praise encore, he announced that Compassion set a record at this concert. They had given every single child sponsorship packet out for the first time ever. The second evening of the concert they tied that record. I understand the second evening was the same set, not as many in attendance, but there was a video crew taking footage for an unknown project.
During the encore, the sound of thousands of voices lifted in praise (especially on "When Peace, Like A River") was certainly a glimpse of heaven. Many shared the same sentiment, and it is a moment of worship that in my experience is unique to a Rich Mullins concert. So even though there are some of you reading this that just haven't had the chance to see Rich live in concert, it is definitely something that must be experienced this side of the cross. Maybe someday, Rich will do a live concert video, but in the meantime, I hope this review has given you a glimpse of Rich Mullins.