SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT

Christian rock combines the Lord's message with the devil's beat. Sometimes the result is exhilaration. Sometimes it's god-awful confusion.

Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't. It's hard to tell, especially with all the punk rock, the moshing, the screaming and the body-surfing. How can you notice a single utterance from a guitar player amid all this? But somebody up front sees him say it as the guitar pick slips through his fingers and floats to the floor.A cuss word seems to have spilled from Dingees guitarist Jeff Holmes' mouth. Some punk kid in the audience sees his lips shape it, though it's impossible to actually hear inside all the noise. But this word evidently confirms a sneaking suspicion inside the kid's head, and after the song ends he decides to confront the band head-on. He spits the accusation at the stage:

"You're lukewarm!" he screams, then mutters something else under his breath.

"Wait a minute ... wait a minute," says Pegleg, the lead singer, slamming the brakes on the show. "What did you say?"

Rebecca, Sara and Deborah Dickson swoon to the music of 4Him at the Crossover Christian Music Festival.
Jennifer Silverberg
Rebecca, Sara and Deborah Dickson swoon to the music of 4Him at the Crossover Christian Music Festival.
Jennifer Silverberg
AllStarUnited field questions from the Christian press during their performance at Crossover. Below: AllStarUnitedís Ian Eskelin mingles with his flock .

"You're lukewarm!" answers the kid, then says something about the cuss word and the guitarist and about not being a good Christian. Holmes is visibly angry — a button has been pushed. The accusation burns.

It's an insult that, on a smaller scale, mirrors the moment during Bob Dylan's historical shift to electric guitar in the mid-'60s when an alienated audience member screamed "Judas!" at the singer. "You're lukewarm!" suggests a similar betrayal; the reference, which will likely escape all but serious Bible readers, is to Revelations 3:16: "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth."

The only light entering the sanctuary of the Mid-Rivers Baptist Chapel in St. Peters is the faint glow of the stained-glass window above the band's sound system, though the window is covered by a huge banner adorned with the faux-scribbled logo of the headlining band, the Insyderz.

Pegleg has to answer, and he does: "We're not lukewarm! All you gotta do is read the lyrics in our CD to know that. But even if he did say it, so what? We're not perfect. Nobody is. We make mistakes every day. Not really a good Christian? The whole basis of Christianity is that Christ forgives you for your sins! And even if he did slip up, that's what he did — he messed up. And Christ forgives you for that!" And the crowd roared in affirmation.

Were it not for the barely visible stained-glass window, you'd be hard-pressed to identify the space as the sanctuary of a Baptist church. The pews have been removed so that the crowd will have space to dance and mosh. The room itself looks a bit like Off Broadway minus the bar, with a wide-open area in front of the stage, where the diehard fans stand, and a nice-sized balcony above. The setup is as advanced as most downtown clubs — a big stage dropped in the area reserved for the choir, a fancy light system, fog machine, PA.

But if you attend one of the church's occasional rock shows, within five minutes the message and mission will become clear: Jesus and faith are everywhere here, and everywhere within the cloistered Christian-rock community in St. Louis, even if they're physically obscured from view.

"More punk rock!" somebody screams.

"Punk rock isn't about speed," responds Pegleg. "It's about attitude!"

The same could be said for Christian rock as a whole: Regardless of whether you're into speed and thrash, swing, ska-punk, teenybopper girl rock or straight-ahead punk, music that moves from threatening dirge to happy pop, it matters not; as long as the underlying attitude is on the straight and narrow — a devout faith in the Christian message — the bands could dress like Marilyn Manson or Black Sabbath and enter the church to perform. And they sometimes do.

Robbie Clark walks around the Mid-Rivers Baptist Chapel like he owns the place. During shows that he and partner Nick Erickson promote for their fledgling company, Ten Pin Productions, you'll see Clark, 18, standing outside at the front door, where a group of teenagers sit at the admission table selling tickets, which usually range in price from $8-$15. You'll see him just inside the door, where tables have been set up to sell merchandise — touring bands make much of their income from the sales of T-shirts, stickers, hats, all displayed with band names, record-label affiliations — talking to the band members and table merchants. You'll see him onstage, checking the setup or taking the mic to welcome everyone and occasionally, once the show is about to begin, to lead the audience in prayer.

"I would like to bring a good small-venue scene to St. Louis," says Clark, "and not only a good small-venue scene but a Christian small-venue scene to show that Christian music can keep up with secular music as far as the style. As hard as they can rock, these guys can rock harder. I haven't heard anybody yet that's as hard as (Christian band) Living Sacrifice except maybe GWAR, and GWAR's just out there. So I want to prove that Christian music can keep up. There's a lot of bands that sing about their beliefs, but they're not Christian beliefs, so they get on the radio and they get popular. Well, all these guys, they're making the same music — sometimes they're a lot more competent and making better music — but because their belief happens to be in Christianity, they don't get out there. And I think that's very unfair. If a Satanist group can make it, like GWAR, I think they should be able to get a fair shot."

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