I think I had only been to one legitimate house show before. It was crowded and deafeningly loud, albeit fun. When I saw the chance to see Matt and Toby of Emery up close and personal, I was a little squeamish at the $20 price tag. Having just returned from the evening, I can assure you, it was worth every penny.
To most people Matt and Toby may be a couple of members of a somewhat successful screamo band. To me, they are the guys who crafted some of the songs that most deeply connected with me in the formative years of my life. In a sense, I feel like I sort of “grew up” with them as their music has matured, although they are a little older than I am. But the heart-wrenching lyrics of “The Weak’s End” carried me through my freshman year of college, and virtually each Emery album since has had some sort of impact on me.
A friend and I drove to a nondescript house in East Nashville for the show. What became immediately apparent was a sense of community that I haven’t felt at any other concert. For a long time, I struggled to make friends in “the scene,” often going to shows alone. Here, my friend and I were greeted by a couple of people, and Toby himself, shortly after walking through the door. We had some pleasant conversations with fellow concert-goers while seated on the hard floor as we waited for the music to start in the dimly-lit basement, illuminated only by Christmas lights.
The rest of the night was a bit surreal if I stop and think about it. These guys who had been at the helm of some of the most passionate shows of my life sat in front of about thirty people, conversationally taking questions and playing mellow music, largely unamplified. But that’s what made it all so real. In college, I may have held them in too high of esteem as musicians. Here, we all appreciated their gifts, but all of it was in a context of personal connection. Through their blog at un-learning.org, they are striving to use the platform they have to re-center the conversation about Christianity in American culture. To me, the humble nature of their living room tour bears witness to such efforts. They legitimately try to meet every person in attendance, thank them, and hear their story. It was honestly kind of unexpected.
All in all, the night was great. They played a great mix of original songs, Emery classics, and a cover, all with unique arrangements, backed by Aaron of As Cities Burn on percussion. Famed producer Aaron Sprinkle was also in attendance, which was pretty cool. Though my body soon tired of sitting on the hard floor, the warmth of such a unique and genuine setting overshadowed the discomfort. It was quite easily one of the coolest experiences I had this year, both intimately connecting with songs that have meant so much to me, and also getting a glimpse into the hearts of two guys who crafted such music. In their words, “The songs aren’t really ours. We feel like we’re on a scavenger hunt… a treasure hunt… and then suddenly, there it is; we find the song.”
I highly recommend the Matt and Toby Living Room Tour to anyone who has ever had a connection to the music of these guys. It was well worth it.