Being in the balcony at a concert is sometimes a very different experience than being on the main floor.
My wife and I went to a Brandi Carlile concert at the Chicago Theater to celebrate our 3-year anniversary this week. Our seats were in the center section of the middle balcony. A perfect overhead view of the stage and no row directly in front of us. It was great.
We got there, chatted a bit with the people next to us, took a few pictures, and waited with anticipation for the show to start.
There was an opening band, who was just okay. Eventually, they finished, there was a short intermission, and then Brandi came out. And I can honestly say that she was one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. Her vocal skills are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Her ability to sing a power ballad and a laid-back acoustic song back to back with equal skill was beyond impressive.
But there was a small problem. We were in the balcony.
And I kept finding myself being distracted by the people around us.
There were two young women behind us that would scream at the top of their lungs every few seconds while also attempting to sing along with Brandi and match each of her vocal nuances, which maybe only 3 people in the world could do as good as she does. They talked at full volume most of the time and kept lovl-ing (laughing out very loud) at each other.
Then at another point, the woman directly in front of myself and Brandi Carlile decided to stand up for the remainder of the concert to clap and take pictures.
Meanwhile, there was a pretty obviously drunk guy down in the 5th row who kept interrupting Brandi as she tried to talk between songs by yelling out how much he loved her and what songs he wanted her to sing.
And finally, just off to our left in the section in front of us, a young couple thought that the show would be the perfect environment to passionately explore each others’ bodies with their hands while tenderly making out in their seats. And I’ve obviously seen people kiss before, but this made me uncomfortable.
All that to say, after about 5 songs, we decided to move up to a different section for the rest of the show…which was a very good decision.
But I found myself still annoyed. For no good reason! Then I was annoyed that I was still annoyed! Here I was, at this amazing concert with my beautiful wife in an absolutely gorgeous theater, and instead of being able to fully invest in the moment, I was distracted by a few people around me who weren’t making me their number one priority in life.
How dare they.
So now I’m annoyed, I’m annoyed that I’m annoyed, and then I’m annoyed at how selfish I’m being.
Until she played one song.
The band had left, and Brandi stepped up to the microphone with just her guitar. The crowd murmured and a few cheered in anticipation of whatever she was about to do.
“I couldn’t leave before playing ya’ll this song.” She said.
People cheered…even though we had no idea what song she meant. She coulda played The Barney Song and then we would have been like: Why’d we cheer? Actually that’s not true. She’s so talented, even if she sang The Barney Song, I probably would have cried and ran to hug all the people who annoyed me, telling them how much I love them and that we’re a happy family.
But she didn’t play The Barney Song.
She played a different song.
One that I’ve heard many times before, but never one as amazing as right then.
She played the most soulful, beautiful, and powerful version of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen that I’ve ever heard.
I realize that everybody that has ever looked at a guitar and their mom has played and covered that song, but I kid you not when I tell you that the rendition Brandi Carlile sang was the most captivating, mesmerizing thing I have ever heard.
I found myself frozen. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t blinking, and eventually I think my peripheral vision just shut down and all I saw was one person on a stage with a guitar and all I could hear was her voice.
And suddenly I noticed something. The room was still. Completely and absolutely still. Every single person in the Chicago Theater was one hundred percent silent, still, and locked-in with Brandi. Nobody was whispering, nobody was fidgeting, people were barely breathing.
For over an hour, people were loud, distracted, and obnoxious. And yet, out of the blue, we were all paralyzed by one thing: a song.
My daughter is almost a year old, and about a month ago she started doing something really strange: she started dancing.
Now this might seem like a normal thing for babies to do, since there are numerous videos of adorable children bouncing and waving their hands to music. But what made it so strange to me, was that we never taught her to do that.
Thus far in her life, we’ve had to teach her to literally do everything. We had to teach her how to nurse in a way that would help her get milk, we had to teach her how to put herself to sleep (which is usually a combination of crying and her pacifier, in case you were wondering), we had to teach her how to eat solid foods, we had to teach her how to sit up, crawl, and stand up, and now we’re even teaching her how to walk.
But we never taught her how to dance.
It was just all of a sudden, one day when The Spice Girls were playing on Pandora, that we looked down to see Eva holding on to the end of the couch with one hand, waving the other hand like she was at a rap battle in the movie 8 Mile, and bouncing her chubby legs to the beat (or something close to it).
And it got me thinking about the power of music. The mysterious power of music.
After the Brandi Carlile concert, Lindsay was determined to find out if Brandi was a Christian. She Googled it, all while asking me if I thought she was or if she could be or why she wasn’t. According to the internet, she is not. But I told Lindsay that I think the reason it would seem to fit so well, is because of how spiritual her music is.
And this is a theme I’ve seen throughout music. That there is this mysterious, spiritual power in music, sometimes even music without words.
At a Sigur Ros concert, an Icelandic band that sings actual gibberish in place of words as their lyrics, a friend of mine said he wept, while another person he went with, who was an atheist, after the show said something to the effect of: “I don’t know if there’s a God, but there was something spiritual about that.”
I watched David Bazan in concert sing a song about giving up drinking for the sake of his wife an baby daughter that brought tears to my eyes.
I’ve heard God speak to me in powerful ways while listening to the most unlikely songs.
I remember hearing my first rock song when I was unpacking from a ski trip in my room when I was 15 that caused me to get up, walk over to my boom box, and stand frozen in front of the speakers, waiting for the song to end and find out who sang it.
And I sat in the upper balcony next to my wife, listening to a voice that sounded other-worldly, transform a room of a few thousand people into a worship experience. Something most people probably weren’t aware of, maybe not even Brandi. But the mysterious, spiritual power of music was the most evident I’ve ever experienced in those brief moments, as over and over again, the word “Hallelujah”, which means God be Praised, rang throughout a vast auditorium, and left a crowd of obnoxious, imperfect, sinful human beings utterly struck with the power of music.