Steve Taylor, 'Bad Boy Of Christian Rock,' Puts Edge On Music, Message

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
April 21, 1988, Volume 61, Number 227
© 1988 PG Publishing Co.
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By Scott Mervis

He's hot. He's sexy. He's a rock 'n' roll animal on stage. What's the rub? Steve Taylor rocks for Jesus.

The cause brought him to the Syria Mosque Ballroom last night, where he used a warm presence and fiery sound to win over the crowd of several hundred faithful.

Now, let me say up front that when it comes to mixing rock 'n' roll and religion, I'm generally a secularist. Last night's opening band, Whitecross, confirmed my feeling that much of this new Christian metal is a lot of empty sloganeering and grandstanding. Although the band was tight, the message "Jesus is the reason!" seemed contrived when played out to a histrionic heavy metal.

Taylor was a different story altogether. His approach is that music with a religious message doesn't have to be distilled, doesn't have to be derivative and doesn't have to have the hard edges rubbed out.

The son of a Baptist preacher in Denver, Taylor was sheltered at a young age from pop music. While working as a pastor at the church, he turned on to Elvis Costello and The Clash, and despite his niche on the gospel charts, his sound is not a far cry from those influences.

His five-piece band has a hyper dance-rock sound, revealing influences such as Peter Gabriel, U2, The Police, The Stones and Squeeze, but creating something as original as Taylor seems to be.

The charismatic center of the band, Taylor has that rock star look about him -- in other words, he looks a bit like Farah Fawcett. Taylor prowled the stage a la Jagger, with intense eyes, and his shaggy blond hair flopping to the beat. He belted out the tunes with the appropriate humor, sarcasm or sincerity.

He has been deemed "the bad boy of Christian rock," possibly for saying, as he did last night: "Sometimes the church trivializes who Jesus was -- starts acting like he wasn't the radical he was. When he came to the world, he shook things up."

Likewise, Taylor's songwriting doesn't skirt the controversial. In fact, it's subtle enough that it is often misunderstood -- the best example being "I Blew Up The Clinic Real Good." Taylor has gone on record as being pro- life, but the song is a scathing look at an ice-cream truck driver who bombs an abortion clinic. Some people "take the law into their own hands. ... It ticked me off," he said to cheers.

"Since I Gave Up Hope I Feel a Lot Better" was a "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-style romp about a jaded ethics professor who teaches that "life unwinds like a cheap sweater." "Innocence Lost," the story of a redemptive death-row prisoner, set up Taylor's touching story about a Polish man who was imprisoned for booking Taylor's band in the communist country.

The touching story of his subsequent release was Taylor's way of praising his savior and instructing the young audience that one must always remain an individual -- a brave and "radical" message by today's evangelical standards.