I remember when my brother gave me a couple of Anberlin CDs years ago when I was in college -- the Never Take Friendship Personal and Cities albums. I fell in love with the rocky ballads, graceful lyrics, and the voice of Stephen Christian, which always softly rose above the riffs of the electric guitar.
I found myself mesmerized and energized by every song. On angry nights, I would pound the pavement of the Chicago streets running and blasting "Dismantle. Repair." and "Breaking." It was always a catharsis that ended with "The Unwinding Cable Car."
My relationship with Anberlin never ended, even though I hadn't been to one of the band's shows. That is, until last night, its second-to-last show ever. Years before, I remembered a friend telling me they sounded terrible live. I was happy to find out they were dead wrong.
Anberlin's farewell tour was bittersweet to the very last song. Every track played was packed with so much emotion, it was reverberating off the walls. The look on Christian's face resembled that of everyone else's in the room -- filled with heartbreak. But the show wasn't all tears. The night was filled with incredible energy and humor too.
When I first walked up to Revolution at 6:45, I saw a crowd of eager fans in long lines anticipating the final concert of their beloved band. A pastor from Influence Culture Church was greeting every person in line, telling them about his Sunday services inside this venue and Jesus' love. The fledgling church members attempted to entertain and make friends with the attendees by bringing cornhole and a photo booth of fugly Christmas sweaters. But I was more thinking: Cornhole? Really? It's a Monday. I just want to hear "Adelaide."
Inside, Josh Scogan opened the show with his band '69. His screams allowed the moshers and crowd surfers to warm up before the main event. I didn't think it would get too rough, but those around me tried to tell me otherwise. Sure enough, I watched a young blond woman attempt to crowd-surf, then face-plant into a security guard upfront. Later on, during Anberlin's set, another girl's moshing got so out of control that she was carried out of Revolution by security. "That's terrible when your ex-girlfriend gets kicked out of a show," Christian laughed jokingly. "She was looking to slug someone. I don't get it. We're not Metallica." Christian sang a little line of "MMMBop" from Hanson to get some laughs.
Sure a bunch of Anberlin songs get rocky, but they're still no comparison to the heavy-hitters like Metallica. Was this show really mosh-worthy?
Once the hard-hitter was escorted out of the venue, the moshers calmed down a bit, but everyone in the pit was still jumping high and screaming the words to every song like a rebellious choir on a Sunday morning. A number of times during the show, I couldn't even hear the vocals onstage because the crowd's were so loud, but Christian just encouraged them to sing louder. "Sing as loud as you can!" he screamed. "This is all for you!"
After a few songs from the albums Never Take Friendship Personal and Lowborn, Anberlin climaxed with "The Unwinding Cable Car." Everyone in the room knew the words, and we all sang along wholeheartedly. When Christian followed up with "The Symphony of Blasé," the line "This is our last goodnight" was all too appropriate. It was the last goodnight, and even though Christian never even said a word about it during the entire evening, he didn't have to. It was all in song.
Anberlin's closing performance for the night, "Fin," was equally fitting. A sea of people raised their hands to make the symbol of the band's tour -- the crossed fingers from the cover art of Longborn. The four band members gave each other hugs, waved goodbye to its faithful fans of 12 years, and walked offstage.
I looked up at the railing as I started to leave and saw a young girl with pink hair crying. She hung her head and held her hands in her face as a man held her. I stared for a while, realizing that thousands of fans across the country may feel the same. It was over, and even Christian's final words, "We'll live forever," didn't seem to ease the pain of the throngs of disappointed fans.
I may not have cried that night, but I did leave with an unsettled feeling. My first Anberlin show was also my last, and I'd never get to see the band again live. I'll always have the group's albums to listen to. I guess that's what Christian meant when he said it'll live forever -- in its music.
As I left, my brother said he wasn't so sure it was over. After all, Copeland got back together after they had a final tour. Plenty of bands had said their goodbyes and then returned. I'm not so sure, but either way "The Unwinding Cable Car" will always be on my playlist.