The older you get, the more quickly time seems to pass. It doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s passing quickly in the moment, however. It’s more that every once in a while, something comes to your attention that makes you realize that decades have gone by in the blink of an eye – a nostalgia suckerpunch, if you will.
I was doubled over by a nostalgia suckerpunch just two weeks ago, when a friend and I went to see the Newsboys, one of our favorite bands from high school, in concert. She had seen them perform multiple times over the years, following the band through personnel changes and the evolution of their sound. I, on the other hand, had last seen the Newsboys in concert about 20 years ago, making the experience rather surreal.
The Newsboys are a Christian rock band that formed in the 1980s and saw some of their peak popularity in the mid to late ‘90s, which happily coincided with my high school youth group years. At that time, the band had just released its “Take Me to Your Leader” album and lead vocals and frontman responsibilities were being transferred from John James to Peter Furler.
Peter Furler, in my humble opinion, is Christian rock’s answer to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. Along with the shaved head, black eyeliner and charismatic stage presence, both share a commitment to creativity and a willingness to experiment musically. At the same time, Furler remains true to his faith, wrestling honestly with doubts and difficulties in his lyrics but always coming back to God’s love and faithfulness.
Furler left the Newsboys in 2009 to pursue a solo career, and Michael Tait (of Christian rap/rock trio DC Talk) became the group’s lead vocalist. Furler has continued to collaborate with the band, with this reunion tour being the most recent project. The reunion tour also features former bassist Phil Joel, which gave my friend and I the hitherto unimaginable opportunity to see the lineup from our high school days.
The first clue that a bit of time had passed since then was my response to my friend’s text message about tickets going on sale: “Does the venue have seats? I don’t think I can stand for that long anymore.”
When that same friend called me 20 years ago, overjoyed because she had managed to get us front-row tickets to the Newsboys’ “Step up to the Microphone” tour, sitting down was the last thing on my mind. We spent the entire concert pressed up against the stage, taking pictures with our disposable cameras, beyond excited to be so close to our favorite group.
My friend assured me that the venue had assigned seating and that, Newsboys reunion or not, she was not going to stand up for a three-hour concert either.
Since our parents weren’t footing the bill this time around, we opted for reasonably priced seats that were a bit further from the stage but still offered an excellent view. Online tickets sales and venue maps are a godsend. No more frantically dialing the box office the moment it opens and praying you don’t end up behind a pole.
I couldn’t help but notice, however, that the seats closest to the stage came with a VIP package that included a photo with the band, a question and answer session before the show and other perks. That was definitely not available 20 years ago – there’s no way we would’ve missed out on that.
On the evening of the concert, we met up after my friend finished work and she drove us to the venue. We both have licenses now, but we also know that time will never improve my sense of direction. I am simply one of nature’s passengers.
I suppose we could’ve looked up our former assistant youth group leader (who was also another friend’s older brother) and asked if he’d like to drive us again, but I think he may still be recovering from dealing with a minivan full of overexcited teenage girls. Sorry, Kevin. I’d like to think we helped prepare you for what lies ahead with your own daughters.
The reunion concert was wonderful but unexpectedly disorienting. It began with the Newsboys’ current lineup playing their more recent hits, none of which I was familiar with. Furler and Joel then joined them onstage for a song, after which Tait left and the lineup I knew in high school played their hits from that era.
My friend and I expended most of our saved-up concert energy during this part, dancing and singing along to the soundtrack of our teenage years. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed this particular group of musicians and their musical output from this time period, and I found I appreciated it even more because of how much the Christian music industry has changed.
There’s a definite trend toward worship music these days, with groups like Hillsong United topping the charts. I have nothing against a well-written worship song, but it’s hard to imagine teenagers today feeling the same way about Hillsong United that I felt about the Newsboys. That was music I could play for my non-Christian friends, music I could blast in the car with the windows down, because it was good music that spoke to the times and to people’s life circumstances in addition to matters of faith.
And Furler was the kind of frontman I could relate to, especially as a new Christian with creative aspirations of my own. Someone a little quirky, someone who didn’t feel they had to fit into a particular mold just because they were a Christian but simply glorified God by being who God made them to be.
That part of the concert was over all too soon. Tait (who is awesome in his own right) returned to the stage, Furler and Joel left and the rest of the setlist focused on more recent songs that I wasn’t familiar with. Everyone came back for one last song together, and then it was over. I was left sitting in my seat with ringing ears, hands that were numb from applauding and no idea what year it was.
I remembered pretty quickly, because as my friend and I were taking a selfie in front of the stage, we found ourselves accidentally blocking the path of Phil Joel. It had to be 2018 and not 1998 because we actually managed to say coherent words to him. At my friend’s request, he posed for a picture with her before continuing on his way. I declined her offer to follow him and ask him to take a picture with me because I am an idiot who doesn’t like to bother people.
Evidence of the current year abounded as we stopped by the merchandise tables. My wallet contained only my own cash (no supplements from Mom and Dad), which was rather diminished from paying for my ticket and my share of gas and parking.
Twenty years ago, my friend and I would’ve stocked up on T-shirts, jewelry, stickers, photos of the band – anything we found aesthetically appealing. This time, she passed on the T-shirts even though she liked the designs because her office dress code is not quite as relaxed as her high school dress code. I likewise took practicality into consideration and opted for a CD and a pin.
It wasn’t a school night this time around, but it was a work night, so we headed out shortly after that.
Though it’s been a few weeks since the concert, I’m still recovering from the nostalgia suckerpunch it inflicted. It’s hard not to be shocked at how much time has passed and how many things have changed.
Thankfully, the most important things have remained the same. Jesus still loves me as much as He did 20 years ago. My sense of direction is still terrible, but it’s okay because other people are willing to handle the driving. And good music is forever, as are the lessons you learn from it.
– Teresa Santoski