Ester Drang has been responsible for two of the most amazing and moving concert experiences of my life. The first was back in 2001, when the band performed with Unwed Sailor and The Elevator Division at Kansas City’s now defunct New Earth Coffeehouse. I had seen Ester Drang at the 1999 Cornerstone festival, and while I liked moments of their set, it didn’t do as much for me as you’d think, given the band’s spacey, shoegazer-esque sound. But that night in Kansas City was nothing short of revelatory.
My friends and I were there to see headliners Unwed Sailor, so I wasn’t paying much attention when Ester Drang went about setting up their countless guitars, effects pedals, and synths. Even when they started playing, I didn’t give it much thought. I assumed they were just doing a soundcheck when, in fact, they were doing a spacey lead-in to a set that would show off songs from their new (at the time) full-length, Goldenwest.
What I thought was just a soundcheck kept going on and on, becoming more lovely with each passing second. When the band fully kicked in and began the first song in earnest, I was floored — and I stayed that way for the rest of their set. When I got back to Lincoln, I was babbling incessantly to anyone who would listen about the Drang, begging them to give Goldenwest a listen because I was certain it would change their life.
The second was later that same year, at the Cornerstone Festival. Honestly, I don’t know where the nostalgia that always accompanies Cornerstone ends and critical assessment of the Drang’s set begins; the two are inextricably linked for me. Even now, looking back on the show after all these years, I find myself caught up in the sort of spell that, for me, marks a transcendent experience, concert or otherwise.
The band was six-strong that night under the Cornerstone Magazine tent: two guitars, two keyboardists, bass, and drums. Their set got off to a shaky start but as the Drang pushed forward, they began to weave a spell over the entire crowd. Each song flowed into the next, creating a continuous and uninterrupted mood. By the time they hit the climax of “Felicity, Darling,” I was, once again, floored. I couldn’t say a word, but just rocked back and forth with a huge, goofy grin on my face.
Afterwards, my friends and I all had the same befuddled yet awestruck look. We’d just had a worship experience in the truest sense of the word. I left the tent as quickly as I could — I just needed to be alone right then. I needed time to process what I’d just experienced, to digest it all, and I didn’t want anything to break the spell. And I wasn’t the only one. Afterwards, once the shock had worn off, I spoke with several people who also felt the need to be alone, to reflect on an amazing experience.
I miss Ester Drang, plain and simple, because of these experiences — not to mention several albums worth of solid music. It’s been over three years since their last album, Rocinate. There’s nothing on their website, nor their MySpace page that indicates any new activity (the band, however, is still listed on the Jade Tree roster). I hope Rocinate isn’t the final Drang album — and though we’re older and have gone our separate ways, the nostalgist in me still hopes that my friends and I will all make it to Bushnell again someday, to gather ’round the stage and bliss out to Ester Drang once more.