2000 was a big year. It was the year I graduated from high school and moved to the Twin Cities for college. Between those two big events, I spent my second summer working at Inspiration Point Christian Camp and Retreat Center. While there, my friend Phil V. turned me on to a Christian band called Waterdeep. He told me that they were one of the best Christian bands out there and I had to give them a listen. After camp, I did give them a listen. Phil advised me to start with Waterdeep’s live album: Live at the New Earth, so I picked up the album soon after coming home from camp.
Waterdeep is a band headed up by Don and Lori Chaffer. They were based out of Kansas City, though the Chaffers have recently relocated to the music mecca that is Nashville. In 1998 the band was a touring machine, hitting music festivals all over the country and building an incredibly strong grassroots fanbase. Their lives shows were being taped and traded on the internet and people were calling them the Christian equivalent to Phish. Crazy. They finally signed to Steve Taylor’s ill-fated record label Squint Entertainment (the same label home of Burlap to Cashmere and Sixpence None the Richer) in 1998. Squint eventually collapsed (a long story for another day) and Waterdeep found themselves indie again, which suits them much better anyway.
Live at the New Earth is an absolutely phenomenal album. The band lineup has changed throughout the years, but this cast has to be one of the best. The style of the album is classic rock with a gospel flavor and the technical prowess is outstanding. Don Chaffer blazes through huge guitar solos, Lori sings her heart out, Brandon Graves drumming is devastatingly good and the bass and keyboard work at highlighted in the various sections of extended jams. This album contains such live show staples at “Gospel Train” and “Come to Me”, each of which build to big finishes. As the album goes on, we move into more subtle songs like “18 Bullet Holes” and “I’m Afraid that I’m Not Supposed to Be Like This” before the set comes to a climatic finish with the brooding worship tune “Holy”. It’s an absolutely perfect live album.
This album showed me what Christian music is supposed to be. The musicians were actually extremely talented and were not afraid to showcase that talent. The lyrical subject matter wasn’t happy-go-lucky all the time; Don penned songs about struggling with understanding suffering and feeling lost in the world. I think that’s what really drew me to the band. They didn’t ignore the difficult times that Christians still face. While most popular Christian artists tend to promote a brand of Christianity that all about “positivity”, this band was quick to point out that Christians still feel lonely sometimes and fear that they are broken beyond repair and that’s okay to feel.
Waterdeep is now one of my absolute favorite bands and they are still putting out incredibly good music. After an extended break from 2002-2007 they’ve released 3 albums in the last 3 years. In fact, their 13th proper album made my top 25 list in 2009! Picking a favorite album of theirs is a tall order, but I come back to this album very regularly and find it fulfilling each and every time I listen.