I first saw Third Day in a large tent in a cow pasture in the fall of 1996, and as I think of it, that was the perfect setting to experience the gritty, down-home songs of the band's first national release. I have since seen the band in all sorts of settings. They played my university's small chapel on The Conspiracy Tour in 1997 (still one of the best overall rock and roll shows I've ever seen) and a few years later, I saw them from the slopes of a ski mountain while they worked through the worship material of 2000's Offerings album during a summer festival. I have seen them play stately theatres and large amphitheatres, and they have yet to disappoint me with a less than stellar and heartfelt show (with the exception of a rough summer festival show cut short by lightning a few years ago).
On a Sunday night this past April, the boys from Georgia (who have now played well past the twenty year mark) played the far reaches of Augusta, Maine on their way to Canada, and put on a night of worship that was both refreshing and classic at the same time.
Fellow southerner Ellie Holcomb served as an opener for the night (Peter Furler had opened for the first leg of the Soul On Fire Tour) and her earthy singer-songwriter sound was a nice counterpoint to the rock and roll bombast that was to follow. While strolling a bit too close to coffee-house quiet with just an acoustic guitar, Holcomb's charm and story-telling quickly won the crowd over, and bringing out a few Third Day backing members to accompany her on her most well-known song "Into The Light" helped connect her to the over-all concert experience. My two young daughters who accompanied me to the show were enraptured by Holcomb the whole time and this won over their dad who quickly sent one of them to go buy Holcomb's album at the merchandise table.
After a lengthy pitch for the organization Feed The Children (which saw musician and concert MC Warren Barfield tell several humorous and convicting stories about how we take clean water for granted) and an intermission, the lights went down and the smoke machines started up in earnest. But instead of the bombastic opener, Third Day's road pastor Nigel walked out, read a Psalm and said a blessing over the night of worship to come. This was a nice, humble move by the band, and added to the authenticity of the evening.
As I suspected, "Spirit," the lead off track on Lead Us Back, opened up the set, and the stirring call to worship was augmented nicely with a backing choir on risers in the rear of the stage, and worship artist Harvest Parker (who also sings on the album and is the sister of worship artist Daniel Bashta) providing a nice female counterpoint to Mac Powell's signature gruff vocals. The band then launched into the familiar "God Of Wonders" (a song which Powell had the privilege of being the first to sing back in 2000). The audience sing-along on familiar numbers like this is one of the best parts of nights of worship like these, and it only continued. The band found time for "Agnus Dei," "You Are So Good To Me" and Rich Mullins' fantastic "Creed." A cover of Bob Dylan's "Saved" was a welcome curveball, and placed in the set list, I suspect, to make good use of the gospel choir on the stage. There are not many artists who can capably cover Rich Mullins, Waterdeep, Michael W. Smith and Bob Dylan all in one night, but Third Day made every song their own and showed that they are as big a music fan as anyone in the building.
But of the top two moments of the night, Third Day was responsible for only one of them. Current single "Soul On Fire" served as the inevitable closing song, and the tune's bouncy, uplifting nature had folks dancing in the aisles and raising their hands at the same time. "Soul On Fire" is one of the best Third Day songs in a long time, and it will make a great set closer for years to come.
But the most impressive moment of the evening found Mac Powell sliding to the side of the stage to sing back up and ceding the microphone to Harvest Parker, who took the opportunity to tell a simple story of two Moravian (an early Protestant denomination centered in what is now The Czech Republic) young men who voluntarily sold themselves into slavery to spread the gospel amongst slave populations in the Caribbean. The song this story inspired Parker to write, "Song Of The Lamb," was a powerhouse tune that resembled psychedelic, mid-sixties Jefferson Airplane. The slow build of the song lead to an explosion of sound mid-way through that brought the crowd to its feet. Harvest possesses a cannon of a voice, and combining it with Third Day's musical prowess was a powerful moment that my two daughters cited as their favorite moment of the concert. I had to agree.
Third Day has been putting on great shows for more than two decades now, and they show no sign of slowing down any time soon. The Soul On Fire Tour was billed as "a night of worship," and that delineation helped set the stage for a spirit-filled evening that left the crowd with lifted souls, full hearts and hoarse voices.-- Alex Caldwell, 5/7/15
Third Day Set List
02. God Of Wonders
04. Father Of Lights
05. You Are So Good To Me
06. Children of God
07. Sing A Song
08. Show Me Your Glory
09. Mountain Of God
10. Song Of The Lamb
11. Your Words
12. King Of Glory
14. Soul On Fire
16. Agnus Dei
Third Day w/ Harvest Parker
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