As they reminded us during the evening, our first taste of Joel and Luke Smallbone on stage were as the backup band of big sister and then-CCM megastar Rebecca St. James. How far they have come! Under the moniker of for KING & COUNTRY, the brothers have escalated into a new stratosphere. It's rare to see a band have that unique mix of unmatched songwriting talent, engaging stage presence and the industry popularity needed to pack concert halls to the brim. But we've found such an act here, and the result is one of the best shows in the biz from an up and coming band.
The Big and the Bold
for KING & COUNTRY isn't just two guys singing on stage while hired guns play rehearsed musical backup. It's a full musical experience with seven guys breaking out all kinds of musical surprises to keep things perpetually unpredictable. Lots of cymbals and lots of diverse kinds of drumwork permeated every note of the set. Accordions, trumpets, cello, chimes— these guys broke out all of it in energetic romps. And good luck actually keeping track of the brothers Smallbone, who seemed to border on teleportation in their constant motion across the stage. You could never accuse these guys of keeping things simple or predictable. And on that note…
Pay Attention, and You'll See Changes To Your Favorite Songs
There were a couple of songs that underwent necessary changes from the studio recording to the stage. Massive breakout single "The Proof of Your Love" is given a smashing outro with all the aforementioned musical bells and whistles. In closing the first half of the set, it felt like something inspired by Skillet themselves. And "Run Wild" trades in its rapped bridge (If you don't have Andy Mineo there to do it, best not to try and replicate it) for a slightly abridged version of the album-closing monologue, akin to the monologue version of "The Proof of Your Love." It's a logical and fitting change that was pulled off seamlessly.
Predictability is boring. It's always nice when artists show a willingness to shake it up a bit. As if the musical smorgasbord on stage wasn't already enough to check this box for the evening, they brought the show into the audience stealthily during a "talk" and then BAM! Hello "Middle of Your Heart," performed with the entire band in the audience, unconventional musical offerings and all. Following it up with a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" left quite an impression.
Best Fake Out
Let's come back from the break playing the album prelude to "Fix My Eyes," but then play "No Turning Back" instead and save the former for the set closer (not counting the encore).
Heart to Heart
One of the most interesting parts of the evening was the stories. The VIP Q&A brought more insight into the stories of the band than it did to the music, and the show itself followed suit. Whether it was the moving tales of their family's dealing with poverty and God's subsequent workings, Luke's recent struggles with illness or even the cute little stories of how some of the guys met their wives, it was definitely an unexpected highlight to it all. Talking during concerts can be risky because people are there to hear music, not long talks, so if you're going to talk for an extended period of time, you have to make it good. And Joel and Luke did make it good. It was heartwarming, funny and inspiring. And their messages of respect and honor are a rare contrast to the exploitative tones of their secular sonic counterparts.
for KING & COUNTRY is in a great position to be a young band who can still play pretty much all of their most popular songs in a full set. Thus, the song selection was overflowing with favorites, and there was little I felt was missing from the setlist. And yet, at the same time, every song is so strong that it felt like the greatest hits of a seasoned veteran act. Not only are these guys classy and courteous, but they know how to put on a truly memorable and engaging show.
You'll be hard pressed to find a better pop/rock act around. I truly believe that not only are they talented enough to become a legitimate headliner, but the packed house indicated that they have the fan power. This was their first time to play a tour with a full set, and they ran with it and made it something truly special. With all of the current headliners being veterans from the 90's and 2000's, it's great to see a new act come speeding out with the potential to crash the list. Of course, these guys have been around a lot longer than you'd realize. Perhaps that experience has helped to give them a head start. Whatever the reason, this was a show to remember. Even though this tour is over now, there are sure to be more to come. So if these guys stop by your neck of the woods, treat yourself to an evening that will be a highlight to your year.
J.J. Francesco is an aspiring fiction writer who enjoys Christian rock, good movies and TV, good food, and good company.