If there was ever an appropriate way to describe the uprising in response to for KING & COUNTRY
, it would be that of a "ten year overnight success story." In fact, it was that exact term Joel Smallbone used when I sat down to interview him and his brother Luke on the morning of their album release show.
A crisp, sunny day kissed the air as the brothers and their incomparable band of militant drumming warriors took to The People's Church in Franklin, Tennessee for the first official date of their much anticipated You Matter Tour. Making the evening all the more special was the fact that the show coincided with the release of their latest album, Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong
. A mere 72 hours hung between the release date and the show, and contagious excitement hung thick in the air of the church where Joel and Luke got their start as worship leaders all those years ago (if only those walls could talk!).
Hometown shows hold a certain level of anxiety, as Joel explained. Not only are family members in the crowd, but being a Nashville show, industry professionals and peers were in attendance as well. If there was ever a time to aim for perfection, that would be it. What better way to set the bar for the whole tour than with a potentially career-defining performance?
Pressure aside, the last thing anyone had to worry about was the band delivering a bad show. If you've ever had the opportunity to see for KING & COUNTRY perform live, then you already know that they arguably have one of the best performances in the industry, Christian music and beyond. From their array of floor toms and unbelievably high energy to the tightly compressed sounds sweeping from their harmonium (google it), there is never a dull moment. And with 14 new songs up for grabs joining bonafide hits, there was no chance this was going to be a boring night.
The event began promptly at 4:30 with a brief Q&A time, with Joel and Luke answering the burning questions of several hundred VIPs already in the audience (You can see exclusive footage from the VIP session over on NRT's Instagram!
). By the time doors were open, 1,100 eager fans filled every seat in the main auditorium. This sold out event would be one for the books.
It's unconventional to say the least, but it also says a lot about a band when they take the risk of going out on tour without the support of opening acts. When you're a band as solid as KING & COUNTRY, it is hardly necessary.
One by one, each member of the band appeared on stage, shadowy silhouettes against the backdrop of thick, blue light as they dove directly into the title track of the new project, "Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong.
" Blasts of trumpets exploded from various members on stage as the duo broke forth into the anthemic chorus.
Sprinkling in some necessary crowd favorites, the setlist included the engaging "Fine, Fine Life
" and "Light It Up
." Celebrating a little bit of Christmas in September, the band broke into their holiday hit "Baby Boy
," leading the audience into a powerful moment of worship.
The idea of the You Matter Tour is taken from the song "Matter
" off the new album. Themes of respect and honor are a priority for this group, with Joel taking the time before the song to stop and talk to the audience about treating the opposite sex with respect and reverence.
Mixing things up a bit as they dove into the upbeat "Middle Of Your Heart
," Joel, Luke, and several members of their band made their way out into the audience, complete with toms and snares in hand. It was a tight performance, but all the more entertaining were the engaged onlookers trying to snap pictures of the band directly in front of them. Switching gears a bit, Joel invited the crowd to turn on their smart phone flashlights as he led a moving acapella version of "Amazing Grace
." Echos of the famous lyrics stretched across the intimate atmosphere in beautifully imperfect harmony, making it a memorable moment indeed.
Hands down their most successful song to date, "The Proof Of Your Love
" burst forth with its vibrant cello intro. There wasn't soul in the crowd who didn't know the words as almost everyone stood to their feet and made the song their prayer. Complete with one of the most bombastic endings ever as clanging symbols and leaping band members flew across the stage, it was the perfect way to kick off a brief intermission. You read that right: there was still more to come!
While the second half of the concert was reasonably shorter, what it lacked in length it more than made up for in its plethora of new songs. "No Turning Back
" started things up again, including what I can only describe as a dubstep-rigged-glockenspiel, altering Joel and Luke's voices with flawless electronic precision.
The brand new, samba infused "To The Dreamers
" got the crowd on their feet once more before they dove into a brief acoustic portion of the night, playing more classics such as "Busted Heart
" and "Hope Is What We Crave
." When one hears the word acoustic, they instantly imagine guitars and perhaps even a scaled back keyboard. Those things you'll find here too, but this wouldn't be a for KING & COUNTRY show without a few extra toys— accordion, chimes and xylophones all made a brief appearance. For a group who admittedly doesn't play acoustic songs very often, it's almost sickening how flawlessly they were able to pull it off.
The chilling performance of the song "Without You
" (previously dubbed "Thorn" at shows you may have seen earlier this year) will easily be the most powerful moment of their live show for years to come. With Luke's acrobatic voice taking the helm, the vulnerable lyrics documenting his battle with a digestive sickness that almost claimed his life last year moved many to tears, this listener included. Luke's wife Courtney was watching in the audience, and the only real bummer of the night was not having her on stage to perform the song with him. Nevertheless, it was one of the brightest of many highlights.
"You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on your shoulders
." It was with those words that "Shoulders
" became a highly vertical moment in the evening. With things quickly coming to a close, the crowd, tired but exuberant, kept the energy level high.
As the night headed towards its conclusion, Joel began to talk to the crowd about perseverance, and how as their lives began to unravel one piece at a time just one year prior with Luke's illness and a handful of other personal troubles, they finally sat down and made a list of all the reasons why they should go on as a band. The mission statement they came up with that night became the guts of the song "Fix My Eyes
," their latest single and one of the most fun songs I've ever had the chance to hear live. This is a band who takes their drumming seriously, folks.
Each band member slipping back into the shadows of the stage, they faded into jet black silhouettes once more as Joel and Luke's powerful vocals intertwined for the last time that night on the solemn "O God Forgive Us
." I was worried the portion of the song which features an epic organ might get the shaft with this live version, but sure enough, at about the two minute mark, the haunting instrument poured forth over the speakers through a programmed keyboard. One might say it was a low key way to end such an energetic show, but after a night full of such raw and varying emotions, it was the perfect way to cap off the night.
for KING & COUNTRY puts on one of my favorite concerts ever. As someone who has seen them live innumerable times, I absolutely never get sick of it. With the addition of new songs, new stories, and new moments that pull the audience in, what was already a phenomenal show has only become that much better. Raw and intense while still filled with lighthearted moments, their live performance captures everything good about this band, from their infectious sound to their roaring cohesiveness. There is very little to criticize and so much to compliment.
The value of the evening far surpasses anything you'll spend on a ticket. Take my word for it, friends. If for KING & COUNTRY is anywhere in your area on this tour or the next— run, don't walk.