The Independence Events Center was filled to capacity Thursday evening, but not for a Kansas City Mavericks hockey game.
In fact, the arena was sports free: Out in the concourses, the televisions were either turned off or broadcasting promotions for the arena. There was not a minute of March Madness and the first night of the Sweet Sixteen.
The beer taps were off, too. The only beverages available were soft drinks and water. This was a night for more transcendent indulgences.
Inside the arena, the seven-piece Christian rock band Casting Crowns led about 5,000 fans on an odyssey into the spiritual and biblical realm.
Lyrically, the band’s songs are about faith, forgiveness, salvation and commitment to a Christian life, themes overtly evident in some song titles: “Jesus, Friend of Sinners”; “Mercy”; “Praise You in This Storm”; “Glorious Day (Living he Loved Me).”
Weather and geography were sources of metaphors for trials and tribulations: wind, rain, storms and crashing waves.
Mark Hall, the band’s lead singer, delivered a few short sermons about the band’s mission and ministry. During intermission, the band conducted a World Vision Appeal, which was followed by a youth leader meeting.
Toward the end of the end of the show, which lasted more than three-and-a-half hours (including three openers), the lights were dimmed, ethereal instrumental music was played and nearly everyone in the place bowed their heads and prayed silently.
But there were some secular rewards, too, depending on your tastes in music. Casting Crowns are a hybrid of a few radio-friendly genres: modern country, adult contemporary, adult alternative. Their songs, a mix of hymns, ballads and arena-sized anthems, evoke the sounds and traits of several bands: Lifehouse, Matchbox Twenty, Coldplay, Collective Soul.
“City on the Hill” cold have been a poor man’s Springsteen anthem: “It is the fire of the young ones / It is the wisdom of the old / It is the story of the poor man / That’s needing to be told.”
During an acoustic set in the middle of the show, they sounded like Allison Krauss and Union Station or any band on “CMT: Unplugged,” thanks to the vocals of Melodee DeVevo and Megan Garrett, and to their instrumentation: acoustic guitars, fiddle, accordion, banjo.
The sound in the arena was as good as I’ve ever heard it; all those bodies in the seats and on the floor no doubt helped. The visuals also were noteworthy: a tasteful light show and screens that flanked the stage, broadcasting videos during each song, lyrics included.
The show’s biggest moment came late, during the sky-scraping anthem “Glorious Day,” a blast of fervent fanfare for he who was the true headliner. The crowd responded resoundingly, singing along passionately, arms raised and waving.
It reminded me of watching U2 sing “One” before a huge crowd at Kemper Arena in November 2001, a couple of months after 9/11. Secular or non-, the best shows have deep, transcendent moments.