Praise Given:
Parallel Releases Reveal the Persevering Potency of Luxury

Several weeks ago, a very popular Australian Christian/worship band called Hillsong United played to a pew-packed State Farm Arena. Outside, along Centennial Olympic Park Drive, a couple of loud men (almost certainly the same ones that are yelling on the sidewalk at every show there) with megaphones and a tall accusatory sign were warning all the drunkards, fornicators, thieves, homosexuals, atheists and other sinners attending the show that “Hell Awaits” them. “Christian” protestors protesting a Christian show. It was bizarre sight, I have to tell you.

The mind reels wondering what those guys would think about a Luxury show back in the 1990s. Formed by four misfits at a Christian college in Toccoa, Georgia, their early songs mashed up blaring mid-’90s alt/indie rock with a charismatic oddball of a sharp-dressed Smiths fan possessing an affected but affecting voice that actually favored Thom Yorke more than Morrissey. Some of his lyrics made people wonder if he was gay and, oh yeah, from the looks of old video footage he was prone to caressing himself sensually while performing the songs. That’s right, they were one of those “we are Christians but we’ll do everything we can to not be labeled a Christian band even though we are signed to a Christian rock label and our CDs are sold in Christian bookstores and we play Christian music festivals” bands.

Which I totally get, because most so-called Christian music is rather lame, and there is a major invisible fence separating the Christian music world from the secular mainstream, be it pop, hip-hop or indie rock – and once you’re branded a Christian act, it can be daunting to cross over and expand beyond that audience, assuming that’s your intention. It was certainly Luxury’s. Longing to be provocative, their attitude collided head-on with a tumbling van and a highway median a month after their debut album was released by Tooth & Nail. The horrific single-vehicle accident totaled the van and broke their necks if not their spirit, and nearly killed the singer, Lee Bozeman. Call it random, call it fate or call it the correcting hand of The Almighty Himself, it transformed the trajectory of Luxury’s once reckless music, which steadily matured, grew deeper, more nuanced and textured. And it undoubtedly transformed the trajectory of the individuals in the band, too – three of them became Eastern Orthodox priests! I’d love to observe an extended conversation/debate between these guys and the sign-waving, concert-protesting, bullhorn blowhards – that could make for an amazing documentary!

Perhaps that can be the basis for Matt Hinton’s next feature. The second full-length flick from the Bell Street Burritos bossman and Sacred Harp Singing enthusiast (the first being 2006’s Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp) tells the tale of the fascinating little band he joined as guitarist in 1999. Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury has been playing the film festival circuit (winning awards at a couple, too), and recently secured a distribution deal with Abramorama, who released Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Eight Days a Week and other cool stuff. It had its theatrical premiere in New York City last month, and will make its Atlanta premiere at the Plaza Theatre on June 19.

So why would you want to watch a documentary about three priests in a band you’ve probably never heard of, one that doesn’t even play shows anymore and records an album maybe once every ten years? Well, it’s well done and it’s pretty interesting. At least, I find it so. But then, I know some of the people involved, and I remember Luxury, sort of. I remember being somewhat indifferent about Luxury, to be honest. I remember their manager, Reid Davis (driver of the van on that fateful day) and one or both of the Bozemans (the band’s lead guitarist, Jamey, is Lee’s brother) and David Vanderpoel (Christian indie labels Gray Dot and Bulletproof Records) gently pestering me about the band in the mid-to-late ‘90s. They didn’t really do much for me at the time, although listening back to some of their early stuff, it certainly has genuine merits, and some of it totally kicks butt. Quality live footage of the band must be lacking (only two clips were found during a quick search on YouTube, one of which is them covering Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes” at the Cotton Club, which presumably would cost too much to license for the movie), so there’s not much of that in Parallel Love, and what is used is often just brief clips from live shows put to studio recordings of the songs. So when Vanderpoel gushes that Luxury was “the best live show I’ve ever seen,” we just have to accept it without much in the way of backup (and assume that he’s never seen The Stooges, The Cynics or Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds).

Mostly we are treated to the band members telling their history, with the usual associates, wives, peers (members of other Christian indie rock bands you’ve never heard of like The Prayer Chain and Piltdown Man, Hinton’s prior group) and media hacks chiming in. Familiar (for me, at least) local names from the mid ’90s pop up from time to time – Ghostmeat Records, Sunbrain, The Union, Thing 1 Thing 2 (Rob Aldridge, ex-Hollyfaith, is the brother of Piltdown Man singer Gabe Aldridge, who also broke his neck in the aforementioned van wreck). Hinton has some funny things to say, as does Mark Salomon, singer for Christian hardcore/thrash band The Crucified and metalcore group Stavesacre, but what I found funniest about Parallel Love is how rad so many of the commentators seem to consider themselves (I lost count of how many times Fugazi is mentioned) when they’re really just pasty old dorks. Which is fine – I’m one too. And you can’t realistically expect a story whose pivotal arcs are a devastating accident and the priesthood to be a huge gigglefest.

In a sense, Parallel Love conveniently acts as an extended EPK for Trophies, the band’s fifth and latest album. And man, is it a ripper! It grabs you by the throat right out of the gate with “Ginsberg Reading ‘Howl’” and “Parallel Love,” where the brawny clamor the five of them cook up is searing. The guitars punch, clang, loom and erupt like a firebomb, while bassist Chris Foley and drummer Glenn Black – the two other founding members – are utterly thunderous. If the gloriously dashing “Don’t Feel Bad If You Don’t Feel Better Right Away” is the album’s “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” then the resplendent title track is its “Fake Plastic Trees” – it could not be a more exquisite showcase for Lee Bozeman’s voice, which truly is stunning. His poetic words, throughout the entire record, are atypical, intriguing and delivered in a mesmerizing manner, whether on a blistering kicker like “You Must Change Your Life” or the tender piano-and-violin caress “Words of Mouth.” The closing eight minutes of “The Gates of Paradise (Give Praise Where Praise is Due),” centered around a repeating piano pattern, leave you both soothed and spellbound.

So, yes, I’ll give praise where praise is due. Calling Trophies Luxury’s best album doesn’t quite convey the whole panorama (they’ve only made five, after all), nor does commending it as an amazing local album. (Most of the members live in other states now, anyhow.) No, I’ll put it this way: it’s the most breathtaking record I’ve listened to in ages. Maybe I should’ve given those kids more of a shot back in the day.

A screening of Parallel Love: The Story of a Band Called Luxury will take place at the Plaza Theatre on Wednesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. Matt Hinton and several other band members will answer audience questions after the film. The new Luxury album Trophies will be released on June 14.