It takes a certain nuance to be able to take a reflective look back and still maintain your forward trajectory. On a steamy Nashville summer night, Derek Webb embodied that dance perfectly as he celebrated the last show in his current tour commemorating the 10th anniversary of his debut solo album, She Must and Shall Go Free. Foregoing sheer nostalgia for a meditative "A lot changes in 10 years and a lot stays the same" attitude, Derek played through the entirety of the album and used his wise and witty between song banter to continually encourage and provoke, as well as speak fondly of the songs and songwriters that helped to craft the album. Derek reserved the lion's share of the praise for his tour mate Kenny Meeks, who originally co-produced the album with Derek and was also expertly handling electric guitar duties for this tour.
Derek kicked things off by playing the A-side of the album first - taking a moment to explain to the younger members of the audience what an A-side actually is. Even 10 years on, songs like "Nobody Loves Me," "Lover," and "Wedding Dress" rattle and resonate with so much freshness, truth, and significance that they sound as if they were just written. Derek's ability to play them with such intensity kept any stale "retrospective run-through" fears at bay as well. His booming voice was in its full roar/rasp glory and the swagger and sway of his Dylanesque "Nothing (Without You)" was my personal highlight of the side one set.
After the opening six songs, Derek took a little break for Kenny Meeks to play a few of his own songs. Kenny's rootsy, Americana guitar playing style really helped shaped the tasty tone of She Must and Shall Go Free and his own songs carry that killer vibe as well. Kenny does more within the first five frets than most guitarists can do with the entire fretboard. His twangy, tremoloed guitar playing fluidly backdropped his songs “Lonely Road,” “Unfaded,” and “We’re Gonna Rise.” In Derek’s words, he essentially “just borrowed Kenny’s sound” for She Must and Shall Go Free. So if you enjoyed the record, you’ll enjoy Kenny’s solo work as well.
Before jumping into the back half of the album, Derek asked for any requests. After the unavoidable barrage of simultaneous outbursts, Derek managed to pluck a couple of the understandable ones. “Mockingbird” and a poignant “Love Is Not Against the Law” made the cut, with the latter filling the room with an incredible atmosphere of reassurance and optimism. Derek then spoke of his upcoming album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You, and explained how it was essentially a follow-up to She Must and Shall Go Free in trying to answer again the questions of “What is our role in the Church?” and “What is the Church’s role in our culture?” As always, those looking for clichéd, easy answers will be sorely disappointed. Derek’s confessional words on cynicism vs. hope were wrapped up in his self-described “protest song against myself,” “Everything Will Change.” I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You will be released September 3 and you should definitely go ahead and mark your calendars now.
Diving into the B-side of She Must and Shall Go Free, Kenny returned to join Derek in “Awake My Soul,” a song written by Derek’s uber-talented wife Sandra McCracken. Kenny’s instrumental influence was felt most between this song and the next - “Saint and Sinner” - as he weaved one slinky guitar line after the next into all of the sonic spaces. Next up was “Beloved,” which is one of those songs that simultaneously destroys me and builds me back up every time I hear it. It’s probably my favorite moment on the album and it was probably my favorite moment of the night. Really, really fantastic stuff. Derek then launched into “Crooked Deep Down” - his song about “you, me, Mother Theresa and Charles Manson” – and I swear I saw a couple folks trying to contain themselves from getting up and dancing. That is the essence of a Derek Webb show for you – incredible songs, laughs, introspection, discomfort, hope and a possible dance party. As with the album, Derek closed the show out with a musical thesis statement. As important today as ever, “The Church” is a constant reminder that it’s impossible to be “apart from” and “a part of” anything at the same time. It was quite an experience to have a ten-years-ago album hit just as hard as it did the first time, especially without feeling like you’d have to “revisit” your ten-years-ago self to make it happen. Derek carefully marked the milestone by bringing the album forward, instead of just going back to get it. The more and more these types of “album in its entirety” concerts are being performed by other artists, the more they should take their cues from Derek’s approach.
I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You will be released September 3 and you can stream the amazing title track here.
- “Nobody Loves Me”
- “She Must and Shall Go Free”
- “Take to the World”
- “Nothing (Without You)”
- “Wedding Dress”
- “Lonely Road” (Kenny Meeks)
- “Unfaded” (Kenny Meeks)
- “We’re Gonna Rise” (Kenny Meeks)
- “Mockingbird” (Derek Webb)
- “Love is Not Against the Law” (Derek Webb)
- “Everything Will Change” (Derek Webb)
- “Awake My Soul”
- “Saint and Sinner”
- “Crooked Deep Down”
- “The Church”