As the legendary pop/rock foursome Newsboys prepare for their next studio release in May, the guys hit the road again for their Spring 2009 "Join The Tribe Tour" as what can also be considered a sort of encore run of their wildly successful "GO Tour." For this final run of the tour before the new record (In The Hands Of God), the Aussies not only feature the reunion of longtime guitarist Jody Davis back into their band, but they invited along southern rockers DecembeRadio, VOTA (which features Davis' first replacement, Bryan Olesen, on vocals and guitar), and unsigned pop/rock group Bread Of Stone.
Unfortunately, even though we arrived with plenty of time to spare, things didn't exactly pan out for seeing the opening indie act Bread Of Stone, but we did make it into the Stabler Arena auditorium in just enough time to catch the start of VOTA's short set. The infectious pop/rock group - formerly known as "Casting Pearls" (you can easily guess why the changed the name) - is a fine match for a Newsboys tour and with having a new album that just released to stores last month, the band played nearly half of their debut record for the Pennsylvania audience. Opening with "Be Mine," the quartet was lead by the charismatic Olesen (who unfortunately seemed to be one of the only members to get any literal spotlight during their set, while most of the band remained somewhat hidden in dim light on stage), who kept things fun and interesting. His incredible vocals and animated presence make VOTA a great live band, and their set continued with the especially upbeat "Hard To Believe" before Olesen paused to share with their audience. Bryan announced that the band was giving away an album this evening (which turned out to be a download card of a mix of VOTA and Casting Pearls tunes), before promoting the new record and the fact that its purchase gives $40 to the needy in Kenya. Olesen then launched into a heartfelt message about being real and open with each other about our weaknesses, which was a nice segue into the memorable ballad "Honestly," and then the equally encouraging "Free To Fail," before closing with "Not Finished."
After a brief set change, Virginia rock band DecembeRadio stepped out to the tune of "Love Found Me (Love's Got A Hold)," a southern rocker from their celebrated self-titled debut. These southern boys know how to put on a solid rock show with a worship spin and this set was no different. They mixed an interlude of Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" into "Love Found Me" before returning to their original song and finishing it. The slower "Be Alright" followed, as well as a cover of the popular Brenton Brown worship song "Everlasting God" and a pause for prayer. With that, the band kept things slowed down for their radio hit, the ballad "Find You Waiting," to which they transitioned into a nice rendition of "Amazing Grace." DecembeRadio fired up the rock n' roll once again for the anthemic "Believer," which featured lead guitarist Brian Bunn tearing into a harmonica solo. For their set closer, "Satisfy Me," vocalist Josh Reedy invited a diehard DecembeRadio fan on stage with them to perform the cowbell (and he couldn't help quoting the infamous Blue Oyster Cult SNL cowbell skit in the process). As soon as DR finished and exited, Newsboys drummer Duncan Phillips walked out on stage to briefly mention the ministry Global Tribe and introduce Anthony Walton who also spoke on the ministry's mission. Walton painted vivid pictures of world poverty he himself had witnessed. While some of it may have been startlingly gruesome, it has become rather necessary in this day in age when we have taken for granted the images of poverty we see on television or in magazines. Many of us have grown complacent, and Walton did a nice job of asking for help without heaping guilt onto the heads of listeners.
An intermission followed, giving concert goers a chance to stretch their legs and check out the Global Tribe table for more info. Before long, the pop band from down under was center stage and busting out their opening hit single, "Wherever We Go." The stage setup wasn't drastically different from The GO Tour. Large screens displayed behind the band showed various colorful designs and real time live footage of the members on stage throughout the night. The neon bars that outlined the stage and catwalk on The GO Tour were not present. The "newsboys | GO" logo that wrapped around Phillips' drum platform was also absent, but the catwalk and B Stage were back for use later on in the set. Truth be told, if you've seen The GO Tour or any of the summer festivals featuring Newsboys in the past two years, than you've pretty much seen this tour. The only difference, however, is the inclusion of the brand new single from their upcoming album and a shortened B Stage medley and slightly extended finale. Of course, probably the biggest change is the return of Jody Davis after a five-year hiatus. Davis had left the band due to a family illness and VOTA's Bryan Olesen had stepped in for a couple years, followed by Paul Colman. With Davis back, the band really felt like the Newsboys again. The foursome - minus Phil Joel - had been together since the mid-90s and their Take Me To Your Leader days. So to see them whole again is a real treat.
Actually, this run of the tour is a bit tighter than the original GO Tour. "The Mission" and "Something Beautiful" from GO once again followed, as well as their cover of Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name," which has been a staple of their set for five or six years now. The band seemed to shorten "Blessed..." which worked better, and "He Reigns" was a wonderful follow-up. It was the first Newsboys original of the night to have been written and recorded during Davis' years with the guys and you could see him loosen up more when the song began. Immediately afterwards, Peter Furler announced the May 5th release of the new album In The Hands Of God and began performing the title track. It was so good to hear new music from the band. Peter then talked about running the race for Christ and lead into their new song from last year's Greatest Hits release, "Stay Strong." With that, the guys began walking down the catwalk to the B Stage for the time of recollection that the band did all throughout The GO Tour. Furler, accompanied by a repetitive background guitar strum from Davis (just as Colman had previously provided), talked of their early days starting out, leading into a chorus of "Not Ashamed" from Jeff Frankenstein on the keys. They then did the same with "Reality" and ended with leading the audience in a few choruses of "Amazing Love." Peter finished an encouraging word for the audience and the band returned to the main stage for their classic "Shine" and then a rousing rendition of the fan favorite "Breakfast." The song transitions seemed a lot quicker, which did allow for a little more music. "Your Love Is Better Than Life" was next, which ended with Peter running down the catwalk to a newly set up mini drum set facing Phillips' massive kit on the main stage. Once again, the two battled it out, independently firing off solos to encourage crowd reaction. It came to a conclusion as Furler's set rose into the air, followed by Duncan's set doing the same, but spinning sideways as he played. When they both touched down again, Furler ran back and began singing their cover of "I Am Free," which included a long adlib of declaration of Jesus' power over death, sin, the troubles of this world - and even the popular new U.S. President. The audience's applause soared as Furler boldly proclaimed Jesus' sovereignty.
At the close of "I Am Free," Duncan, Peter, Jody, and Jeff locked arms and took a bow, exiting the stage. The lights stayed dimmed, and when the band returned, another Davis-era Newsboys favorite was performed, the worshipful "It Is You," serving as a beautiful end to another great performance. Very few bands (if any) exist today like the Newsboys, who still make relevant songs and put on strong shows after twenty years of music-making. If you missed The GO Tour over the past two years, the Join The Tribe Tour is your last chance to catch it before the guys work the new songs into a new show for the Fall. And with DecembeRadio and VOTA opening, you're certainly in for a great night of pop and rock music with a focus on praising our Savior and changing the world around us for His glory.-- John DiBiase, 3/4/09
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