San Antonio, Texas Concert Review
September 9, 1998
Keeping an eye on ominously black clouds and dodging raindrops leftover from Tropical Storm Frances, we made the trip from Houston to San Antonio on September 12, the first stop on the This Train/Mitch McVicker/Ragamuffin Band tour. Appropriately, as Mark Robertson revealed during the concert, Sept. 12th, 1997 was the date that Rich first played the demo tape for him that eventually became The Jesus Record. Rain and lousy motel room notwithstanding, the evening was well worth the effort to go, in every respect.
The concert was opened by local songwriter Chris Taylor, whose music was aptly described by Mark as "intelligent, artsy, and folksy". The low key, acoustic three song set was followed by an introduction of This Train by Kid Brother Eric Hauck.
The band that tours in a converted milk truck delivered their trademark energetic set, beginning with "Like it or Not" and "I Saw the Light". At that point they launched into their "tribute" song to the "least of these" to which Jesus must have been referring, the "Mimes of the Old West", followed by "A Million Years". By this point they had experienced numerous technical difficulties, causing Mark to wisecrack about their "vintage" equipment. During "A Million Years", Jordan was forced to abandon his guitar, leaving Mark and Cobra Joe to finish the song with a bass and drum duet (which actually sounded pretty cool!), prodding Mark to joke that he thought the guitar was seriously over-rated. Their final song was the sensitive, romantic (!) "Monster Truck," all of which left us - even those who initially did not know what to expect - wishing for a full scale This Train concert.
During the set change for Mitch and the Kid Brothers, Mark spoke about the accident that still, a year later, remains on our minds, and about the growth in Mitch's life as a result. When Mitch, Eric, and Michael Aukofer took the stage, Mitch spoke about how he seemed to be stuck in a song writing rut because his songs were all about love. His set consisted of "Here and Now", "Freedom", "Take Hold of Me", "Only Love Will", and "The Lemonade Song". Between the three guys nine different instruments were played, and it was poignant to watch the way in which Eric and Michael truly "backed up" Mitch, and not just musically. Between songs Mitch spoke in a halting, though lighthearted way, about various things, including the fact that he still had residual double-vision from the accident and to him, the audience looked huge! But when he spoke about the "love in action" he had seen both Rich and Compassion demonstrate on the reservation, he became tearful and struggled to get the words out. People have spoken before about his quiet, unassuming demeanor, and that was certainly in evidence Saturday night.
When Mitch was through with his set, they began to set up for the Ragamuffins, but the audience, who had been clapping rose to its feet to give Mitch a rousing, standing ovation. Mitch appeared to be embarrassed. Michael whispered something into Mitch's ear and Mitch stepped up to the mic, motioned for us to sit down and proceeded to tell us a joke about a gorilla in a zoo that had everyone laughing.
At that point Rick Elias (dressed like the original "man in black"), Aaron Smith, Jimmy Abegg and Mark took the stage. There was a tangible change in the atmosphere of the concert. Perhaps it is Rick's commanding stage presence, or the amount of collective talent between the guys, or maybe just an awareness of the history behind the Homeless Man tour, but from that point on it was difficult to take notes because we were so intent on what was happening onstage.
They opened with "My Deliverer" which the audience joined in enthusiastically, as if our "collaboration" could convey our approval and our deep, heartfelt appreciation for the efforts these guys have made. Afterward, Mark commented to the audience that the band had decided to stay together "if that's all right with you", which met with more overwhelming approval. Then followed "Surely God is With Us," "You Did Not Have a Home" and "Hard to Get", after which Rick smiled and commented that, "we don't know what's going on, if that isn't apparent yet" (alluding to some Rich-style glitches like forgotten lyrics!) At that point Eric and Michael joined the band to back up Rick on a song he introduced by simply saying, "Rich liked it." This was a major understatement as it has been said that this was one of Rich's very favorite songs (written by Rick) - "Man of No Reputation."
Afterward, the house lights were turned up, the band took a break (during which Rich's boom box version of TJR was played over the PA) and Rick gave a very impassioned and articulate speech, seated on the steps of the stage, about Rich and how he "used music as a means to an end". Reminiscent of Rich's story-telling ability, Rick described what became evident to him following Rich's death, when everyone gathered at the various memorials. He realized how Rich had given himself to so many people "like pieces of a quilt." Some people got one piece, others got two, maybe others had to share a little piece, but when all the pieces joined together, it became "a big, beautiful blanket."
He told how excited Rich was over the upcoming Jesus Record, and he mentioned how totally transparent and honest Rich was, even to a fault, and that was why he was so loved. He also gave a plug for Compassion International, mentioning their new project, working with the inner city poor, which he described as his own background.
Break over, and in a strikingly familiar fashion, four chairs were set up across the stage. The guys returned and Mark (imagine his dry sense of humor) announced that "they hadn't rehearsed this set at all", which was, to their credit, only occasionally apparent. They seated themselves across the stage, up front, and for the next (hour?) gave a very warm, relaxed, often funny and often reflective tribute to Rich. Beginning with Mark doing a slower acoustic version of "Somewhere," each of the Rags soloed on a Rich song. Jimmy followed with a beautifully sung version of "Ready for the Storm" which was preceded by a rambling round of banter between the guys, including an abbreviated Irish Sweater story, and a humorous revelation that "Rich was a simple guy - his songs were always played in G" (or according to Rick, an obscure, guitar friendly key like C sharp).
Jimmy commented then that the audience probably knew the song lyrics better than they did, because when they were just Rich's band, all they did was play the songs, and never worried about the lyrics. He became serious at that point and, referring to the theme of "Ready for the Storm" as being ready for death, and stated, "The more years I spend on this planet, the more I want to get off."
Rick took over at that point and told about meeting Rich for the first time on a Compassion trip to Guatemala and sang what he said was his favorite Rich song, "The Breaks". Then followed what was probably the most emotional musical moment of the evening. Aaron read the passage in Ephesians 6 about the full armor of God, and "after you have done everything, to stand..." By then Mitch, Michael, and Eric had joined the Rags on stage and pretty much everybody sang BGV's to Aaron's emotional lead on "If I Stand". The word "moving" can not begin to describe that moment on stage. (Can we PLEASE get a concert video???)
Well, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the heart-rending to the light-hearted - at that point Mark cracked, "It occurred to us during intermission that we should learn this," referring, of course, to "Screen Door" and the cup routine. Aaron laughed and pointed to our list's very own Angie and said, "This one's for you!" (initially they had planned to scrap it because of lack of rehearsal, but she encouraged otherwise - thankfully!.) Picture (from left to right), Eric, Aaron, Mitch and Mark executing a near- flawless... well, ok, reasonably good, rendition of the cup thing. It was hilarious!
Then, back to the poignant, as Michael beautifully played the intro to "Calling out Your Name" on the hammer dulcimer with Mitch singing lead. From that point on, we were all on our feet as the guys blasted through "I See You", "Awesome God", and "Creed", then slowed down a bit with Jimmy doing the lead on "Hold Me Jesus". After commenting "We miss him, but we still have his songs", Rick invited us to continue joining in as they closed the concert by singing "Sometimes by Step" and "Doxology". Just as they did when Rich was with us, the band quietly left the stage as the audience continued singing the Doxology a cappella. It ended in a spine-tingling, extended silence that was finally broken by a woman exclaiming, "Wow!"
What a night....
Review by Denise
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