By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor
I can’t think of a concert experience quite so exhilarating as what the Newsboys Christian rock group served up last Friday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
The crowd of about 1,800 people (says Civic Center director Jeff Mead) were hooting almost as loudly as your intrepid reporter, as the group played to the back of the room and way up heaven-ward for a solid, energetic, exhilarating night of music.
No surprise that lead singer Michael Tait is the son of a preacher. Testify, again! But there were also just the pure pyrotechnics of it. Irish wildman Duncan Phillips on the drums at the back of the stage? How’s this for just pure-out nuts:
The song is “Crazy,” finale before the encores. (“I want to be that radical,” Mr. Tait sings, “Fearless and fanatical…Some say odd; I say child of the living God….”)
The music is fast and loud. Phillips and his massive drum set are on a wide circular grated pedestal at the back of the stage that sometime during the show had raised up into the air, several feet above the rest of the band, a “Newsboys” banner slung around the base. Okay. Cool.
As the song revs up, that pedestal starts shaking, back and forth, left to right!
Then it tips right up to vertical, Mr. Phillips strapped in (thank goodness) still drumming like mad and looking up to grin at the audience.
THEN the bloody thing starts spinning, fast!, like a Tilt-a-Wheel, and — he’s still drumming, ever the more wildly! I’m practically in tears, any objectivity gone.
The audience is screaming its collective head off.
We are having fun! Fun with Purpose. Capital P.
Troubled world, message is love
The concert felt as much like a revival meeting as anything else — hearts high, palms raised, people in tears or stomping along, transported. There’s a long pause in the music while Mr. Tait comes out on the catwalk to speak earnestly about God and the band’s mission, eye-to-eye with his audience, mixing serious notes and funny, slinging the modern slang, dawg, as much as he’s been vamping and sashaying his tight-jeaned bottom to the music.
The message was serious, and overwhelmingly positive: These are times of trouble — and here, Mr. Tait referenced Ferguson and Baltimore, as well as the “crazy” presidential election. (It’s immensely encouraging to realize that so many of us on so many sides of the fence are in the same boat on that one.)
We may well be feeling discouraged, worried, uncertain, Mr. Tait said. The world is increasingly imperfect. Maybe our lives, too, he said.
His solution is, simply, “Love.” And trusting in God. Give yourself over, he suggested. We only see these small moments. God has the big picture we can’t see, he said.
There wasn’t much anti-anything to this brand of Christianity. Well, other than a sarcastic video dig at two non-believers: A college philosophy professor and skeptical woman journalist — hah. I appreciated that the message stayed mostly positive, if occasionally a little defensive. (They call me crazy; the world hates me because I’m a Christian; willing to go to jail for God)
Still, the band’s sound is big and engaging, lyrics inspired as well as inspirational. They project a lot of their words onto the big video screens that are so core to the show. That’s testament: In this case, the words, like The Word, they matter.
It’s a funny thing. We have crossover hits from jazz to country music, even Gospel and blues. How is it that Christian music remains such a purely boundaried niche?
These Newsboys, they are super-great, no matter the matter of what they’re singing. It’s not unusual when I’m driving and swinging through the dial looking for music, it often takes me a several songs before I realize — dang, got me again! I’ve been humming along with the Christian station. Good tunes are good tunes.
The fact that this band’s passion is for God rather than sex, drugs or rock-n-roll — why should that be hard to take?
I never bought into the drug culture of some bands I like, or the misogyny of some rock and roll classics. Why not stop in for a genre whose message is not exactly my own, but whose music is enhanced profoundly by what I pray is uncynical purity of purpose — a passion for God, rather than girls?
Opening act Cloverton, fronted by Lance Stafford and his twin brother-bass player Layne, were perfectly charming as a boy band. The audience knew many of the songs to sing along with. Guitarist and bass player both doubled nicely on cello; Lance’s piano work was tight, too.
I do take exception to their version of Leonard Cohen’s now-classic “Hallelujah.” They turn Cohen’s hauntingly agnostic song into a straight-forward retelling of the Christmas story. Write your own music, boys, if you want to tell the story so much your own way.
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