Picture a room full of goths. Make it a small dance club, a crowded small dance club. There’s a band performing and the club is far more crowded than normal, enough so that the air conditioning system is running even though it is fifteen degrees outside and a blizzard is scheduled to start within hours.
Got that in your mind? Ok, now picture all those people smiling.
That’s right, smiling.
Sounds pretty crazy but it is a sight I saw myself a few nights ago. Even crazier, it wasn’t the first time I saw this unusual sight. Personally I have now experienced this phenomena three times. That is because I have seen the Cruxshadows perform live exactly three times.
There is a good chance that you have never heard of the Cruxshadows, and an even greater chance that you’ve never seem them perform. Fortunately for you that will have no effect on the rest of this essay. The Cruxshadows are alternative/darkwave/goth band who have been playing music for about fifteen years. Like many bands in their genre they seem to be more successful in Europe than the states, although their most recent single got in the Billboard Top Ten Singles when it was released.
Aside from the fact that I am generally quite fond of their music (after all, Fire and I drove two hours to see them and then three hours home in a blizzard and considered it worthwhile) what amazes me about the Cruxshadows, and their singer/songwriter Rogue is their ability to bring joy to a crowd generally resistant to outward expressions of such (or really any) emotion.
At the recent concert I watched with amusement as an attractive young woman clearly struggled to maintain an air of angst/impassivity for a solid several minutes before abandoning all pretenses and grinning like an idiot.
The image that stands out above all else from the evening though is of Rogue standing in the middle of the crowd on a bar stool. At this point I should mention that he periodically steps into the audience and walks and dances through the crowd while continuing to sing using his headset microphone. He went and got a swiveling bar stool and spun himself around in circles while singing using only his own movements. People who know me will be shocked to discover that the reason this stands out in my mind is not directly related to the sight of Rogue’s gyrating hips.
Rather what stands out is his total confidence. This is a pretty risky, albeit impressive stunt. For a band with their punishing tour schedule, an injury to the singer could be disastrous. However, I don’t believe Rogue was ever really in any danger whatsoever. There is no doubt in my mind at all (and I suspect the same could be said for him) that if he had lost his balance he would not have hit the ground. There simply isn’t any way that the audience would have let that happen.
I have seen other performers who possessed incredible “presence.” Rogue, and to a lesser extent the rest of his band (especially the electronic violin player, Rachel who is unbelievable) are exceptional but not alone in this area. It is not the remarkable blend of intimacy and power over and with the audience that is most significant in my mind. Instead it is what the band seems to do with it, namely make people feel good. One might even say good about themselves.
Don’t misunderstand me for a moment; the Cruxshadows do not sing exclusively happy songs, far from it. I may be wrong, but right now I fail to think of a single song of theirs that I would call “happy,” weird perhaps (try listening to the song “Carnival”) but not happy. At the same time they generally lack the brutal despair of say, early Nine Inch Nails. Their music tends to revolve around the human condition, sometimes in a mythological context sometimes not. One of the finest songs I have ever heard honoring the sacrifices made by soldiers and warriors is “Winterborn (This Sacrifice)” off of their album “Wishfire.”
I have spent the last several days trying in to grasp and explain the effect that the concert had on the crowd. There was clearly a good deal of energy and foo flying about, but at the time and in retrospect I have been unable to pin down exactly what it was. I will say this, if in the middle of the concert Rogue had told everyone to take off their underwear and put it on their heads they(we) probably would have. If he’d told them to go kill some guy they(we) probably would have done that too. Where the real power was though is that there is no way he would have asked that and that is how he got such power in the first place. He conveys an intimacy and with it a trust that as a shaman I know I should distrust, but instead find comforting even in retrospect.
As a shaman, I would love to know what about Rogue and the Cruxshadows inspire these feelings. However, as an audience member, I honestly don’t want to know. Attending a ritual and being able to enjoy it purely as a participant, rather than analyzing its effectiveness/structure/spiritual impact is a privilege that one gives up when one becomes a spirit worker. This concert was a rare opportunity to recapture some of that feeling of magic (rather than foo) and I see no need to look behind the metaphorical curtain.