A Special Night With Undercover

The release of the Jesus Revolution movie has created a renewed interest in a lot of the older Jesus Music. Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel were instrumental in the lives of a lot of the early artists. The church continued that trend into the ’80s with their Ministry Resource Center (MRC) helping to get some of the early Southern California rock, punk, and new wave bands off the ground (props if you can find any of those rare releases today).

One such band was Undercover. Their 1982 MRC self-titled release was a unique blend of keyboard and guitar-driven punk with fast songs, quick choruses, and child-like lyrics that proclaimed the name of Jesus, the likes of which had never been heard before.

In 1984 Undercover and a handful of other Southern California MRC bands headed east to introduce the rest of the world to this new brand of Christian Music. One of their stops was the inaugural Cornerstone fest, Cornerstone ‘84, in Grayslake, IL, an event that would change my life forever.

I was 21 years old, in college, and free for the summer to do whatever I wanted, so my best friend, my brother, and I headed off to Illinois. We went for the headliners, like DAThe 77s, and Rez, but were blown away by bands we had never heard of before, like Youth ChoirLifesaversThe Altar Boys, and, of course, Undercover.

At one point during the Undercover set the keyboardist, Ojo Taylor, started calling people out of the audience to come up on stage to sing gang vocals for the next song. The only thing I could think was, “How do these people know these songs? I’ve never heard any of them.” The song turned out to be “God Rules.” Hearing that song live with gang vocals ran a chill down my spine.

That was 39 years ago. I’ve now spent two-thirds of my life following this band. Over the years their lyrics grew up from the early Christian cheerleading to deeper, darker lyrics about living out the Christian walk in a real world. It seemed that as their Christian journey went, so went mine.

In 2002 Undercover put out their final studio album, One Rose Falling. It was the end of an era.

Last year, 2022, Undercover did a reunion show at AudioFeed, a festival that grew out of the ashes of Cornerstone, one that I’ve been a part of nearly since the beginning — as part of the media team photographing it. If you’ve read my stories before, you know I was not photographing shows back in the day, so it was especially exciting to me to get to photograph one of my long-time hero bands.

The pics came out great, and the band loved them, but honestly, I believed it was likely the last time I’d ever see them as a band.

But as fate would have it, there was a wedding planned in Nashville in September that all of the band members would be attending.

So somebody asked the question, “Why not?” Why not, indeed? And with that, another show was planned.

I already had another festival scheduled that same weekend, but when the band reached out to me to come to Nashville and shoot the show, I just could not say no. The bonus was that Derri Daugherty from The Choir would be opening.

The show was at a bar in Nashville called The 5 Spot, a small, intimate place with great sound and lighting. I got there early and got a nice spot near the front.

They opened with “Way of the Rose”“I’m Just a Man”, and “Purple Flower”, all from three different eras of the band – a trend that would continue the entire night. When you have a music catalog that spans 20 years you can pretty much do what you want. The set “ended” with “Mea Culpa” followed by an encore of “Promenade”, then finally ending the night with one of my all-time favourite Undercover songs, “So Wonderful”. Twenty-one songs total.

It could not have been a more satisfying night. Who knows if this will be their last show together? None of us are promised even tomorrow, and some of these guys are pushing 70. But I, for one, am glad I made the effort.

So if you have to ask yourself if you should make the effort to go see a show, I can tell you that the answer will always be “yes”.



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