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Much hash has been made of Jars of Clay abandoning their Evangelical roots. I’m not interested in that debate. The fact of the matter is that we are all called to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That is what I see (and hear) Jars doing: making their faith their own, refusing to be defined by the convictions others project onto them. How this works in practical terms is that while honoring their past, youthful zeal has evolved into a deeper, more mature faith.

In essence, these are a group of guys who are so secure in their faith that making music about real life–their lives–comes naturally now. They have freed themselves from the expectations of a subculture that wants to keep them in a box called Christian music. As if Christians can’t make music about life, about struggle, conflict, heartache, without name-checking Jesus every few bars.

Last night at the show my wife and I attended, Dan Haseltine said (speaking of Inland), “This is a record that took us twenty years to make. One that we couldn’t have made when we were eighteen, and knew everything.” Meaning that he, and the group, have lived, have struggled, have seen and experienced things over the years. They’ve had victories, suffered losses, had setbacks, have had children, fights with their spouses…

They’ve lived.

And they’re better for it.

Last night’s show was at a smaller venue, so right off the bat you know it’s going to have an intimate feel. (My wife and I, because of my work schedule were late, and missed the first opening act, Kye Kye). What I noticed when Brooke Waggoner (an artist whose work, unfortunately, I wasn’t acquainted with prior to last night) began her set was that Stephen Mason (Jars’ guitarist/bass player/raconteur) was on stage, playing bass for her.

And from where I sat, he looked like he was enjoying himself–just playing for the sheer joy of it.

After Ms. Waggoner’s set, and during the intermission, the members of Jars were onstage setting up their own equipment. No roadies, just them–checking guitars, taping down lines and set lists. Gone was the bombast of, say, the 11th Hour tour. No video screens, no fog machines, no special effects.

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Just four guys (and supporting players) and their instruments.

The set list was a mix of old, and new, tunes. All delivered with passion, and without pretense. These are clearly men who trust one another implicitly (they would have to to still be doing what they do after all these years). I got the sense, based upon the repartee between Dan and Stephen, that these are guys who don’t take themselves seriously at all.

But they do take very seriously what they do, and that’s make great music. Despite being up on the stage, performing, the greatest impression I got from them was that they were both humbled, and honored, to be performing for us.

Among the old standbys, there were: One Thing, Flood (a rousing acoustic rendition), and Faith Like a Child (a crowd favorite, and certainly a highlight). Missing from the back catalog were: Love Song for a Savior, 5 Candles, Unforgetful You.

But they couldn’t play everything spanning their near twenty year career.

New songs included: After the Fight, Loneliness & Alcohol Alcohol, Inland, Fall Asleep, and others.

In all, it was a rousing, energetic, yet intimate, show. Looking forward to see where they go in the future. Of all I’ve said here, perhaps the best summation of the performance (and the highest praise), comes from my wife, Lisa, who said, “They’ve grown.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Do you like Jars of Clay? What’s your favorite song? Have you heard Inland?