Tim Minchin played last night at the Sheldon Theater in St Louis, and a group of us drove the 120 miles to attend (or, in the case of one of us coming from Springfield, 215 miles!). I first heard about Tim from one of my favorite Latin teachers, but this was the first time I’d ever had a chance to see him perform, other than on YouTube.
The Sheldon is a wonderful theater. Engraved above the doors is “Ethical Society of St. Louis,” the former owners of the building. Today, it is a ~700 seat theater (seating includes a large balcony), an art gallery, and a small, tasteful bar. The acoustics are wonderful and it has 5 huge, breathtaking stained-glass windows. Tim spent the first few minutes of his show chatting to the audience about the building. It really is a sight to see.
For those of you who, like me, had never before seen Tim live, one thing that surprised me is how much of a musician he is. He is an amazing singer and an incredibly talented pianist. He just happens to write very funny songs. He quite masterfully blurs the lines between music & comedy. One of the greatest differences between comedy acts and music performances, I think, is that people get upset if you, as a comedian, do a set they’ve already heard. That’s one reason it’s getting really difficult for traditional comedians these days, I think. It used to be that you would have a series of bits that you toured with, and as long as you had a new audience each night, you could use the same material for months. These days, comedians have to come up with new material constantly, because their fans watch YouTube and spoil all their jokes in advance, then feel let down when they’ve “heard that one before.” But with music, it’s the exact opposite: If you go to see your favorite band, and they DON’T play their greatest hits, instead opting for fresh material, you get disappointed! Tim has managed to blend these two perfectly: His material, songs-that-are-funny, is both comedic and classic at the same time. Although he introduces new material regularly, from what I understand, he’s been closing his shows with the same song for over 6 years, and that’s fine with me – it’s a wonderful one, and I would love to hear it again.
Tim has a serious side, too. He’s well-known for his passionate skepticism and commentary against religion, and he did a great job speaking on these issues tonight. He got a two-minute standing ovation for The Pope Song and was kind enough to come back out twice for encores (since we, frankly, wouldn’t shut up otherwise). He played two absolutely beautiful, non-comedic pieces at the end, a Christmas hymn and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that left me teary-eyed. On the latter, he had the audience sing the choruses with him while he harmonized softly – though he couldn’t resist cracking a joke about getting 700 atheists to sing “Hallelujah” in a church – and I realized that this – this, right here – is what’s missing from our lives when we, as non-believers, quit going to church. I’ve written recently about the need for a sense of community among atheists. Skeptics in the Pub is great, and it has a place, but this doesn’t replace the experience of being in a room with hundreds of other people, listening to something unfold that’s bigger than yourself.
I think that the most amazing part of this is, though, that it’s real. There was nothing supernatural in that room tonight. It was 700 people singing together, listening to a heartfelt song, watching someone bare something personal. It was just beautiful. This is what life is about. Laughter, friends, and music. I’m an atheist because I’m not convinced that the evidence is strong enough to warrant belief, yes. But I’m also an atheist because I can’t bring myself to cheapen my life with fairy tales like that. Tonight was beautiful, just as it was.
Here’s the Christmas hymn he sang tonight, White Wine in the Sun. (In Australia, since they are in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is in the middle of summer):
Have a great weekend, everyone.
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website ishttp://www.DaveMuscato.com.