I know I'm supposed to be measured and journalistic and all that, but c'mon people. I just saw dcTalk reunite after 15 years--on a boat in the Caribbean! I'm still geeking out pretty hardcore; not gonna lie.
NRT Founder Kevin McNeese and I (and our wives) were able to witness not one, but TWO dcTalk shows on the MSC Divina last week, plus each of the members' sets with their respective "side gigs."
We also scored the only interview with the guys--an exciting, insightful conversation you'll get to hear and see soon. But in the meantime, I won't keep you in suspense about some of the incredible things we heard, saw and learned during our four days with Kevin, Michael and Toby.
1. Yes, they've still got it.
The big question going into the reunion was, "How would they sound?" As people get older, typically vocal ranges dip lower, and the high notes are harder to come by. This was most certainly not the case as dcTalk performed; vocally, they're just as good as they've ever been--and, I'd argue, better than ever from a musical standpoint (thanks, also, to the incredible amalgamated band they assembled from their original band and Toby's Diverse City Band). That said...
2. Chemistry is still under construction.
Having attended the first and last concert (out of three identical shows), it was interesting to see the progression of Kevin, Michael and Toby's onstage chemistry. They've all been frontmen in various respects (don't forget, KMax fronted Audio A), and not only are they having to get to know each other's varied styles all over again, but they're having to defer to each other as three equal frontmen. They admitted they're having to relearn what to do when they're not the featured vocalist, and they're figuring out how to interact with each other on stage. That said, their friendship appears to be very much intact, and from the first to the third show, they loosened up, got into a groove, and appeared to be having a lot of fun. This aspect will only get better from here.
3. They're now a supergroup in reverse.
It's no surprise that dcTalk was at the top of their game when they took their Intermission. They had a voice into the culture (Christian and otherwise) that was, and maybe still is, unmatched. As good as they were together, they went from being a chart-topping act, to three chart-topping acts, to a supergroup, bolstered by years of professional and personal growth. Toby grew as a creative in so many ways and reclaimed the hip-hop edge he had at dcTalk's onset. He also grew as a leader (and now as a record label co-owner and clothing label founder). Kevin Max was able to flex his creative muscles in every possible direction, with the anthology of his solo albums running the gamut of genres, styles, lyrical directions and more. He's done film and books, and has put his unique stamp on a lot of others' works with cover tunes. And let's not forget fronting Audio Adrenaline for a far-too-short stint. And then there's Tait...
4. Michael Tait wins 'Most Improved' award.
TobyMac delivers his raps with a polish, maturity and ferocity that only comes with experience. Kevin Max's crooning is still wild, on-point and unpredictable, with his vocal gymnastics continue to astound. But it's Michael Tait who has, over the course of the life of dcTalk (and since the Intermission), shown exponential evolution. His voice is as strong and commanding as ever. Whereas he is quoted as bringing "the soul" to dcTalk, he's proven his pop and rock acumen, too, through the Tait band, Newsboys and even side projects like the early 2000s !Hero rock opera. His tenure with the Newsboys has given him a swagger and showmanship that raises the bar for dcTalk as a whole.
5. The Heavenbound/Nu Thang era is definitely over.
In dcTalk's set, the guys didn't perform a single one of those old hip-hop songs. Instead, they masterfully unleashed Diverse City emcee DJ Maj to create a megamix of the old songs against the backdrop of newer tunes (like "Intergalactic" by Beastie Boys or "Party Up" by DMX). It would be hard to imagine three quinquagenarians doing those "time capsule" rap songs, and it's clear they're just going to let those stay in the past--although if they were to record new music, I wouldn't be surprised if they remade some of those songs in the future. But as they originally were recorded/performed, yeah, we're not going to see anything before Free At Last performed live again.
6. They've done a good job and left us wanting.
The setlist for the Jesus Freak Cruise was, predictably, most dominated by songs from the Jesus Freak album. Of course, we can't at all complain about ANYTHING in the set--they did 14 incredible songs--but there are definitely a lot of songs from Free At Last (including the title track!) and Supernatural (Hello "Dive" and "Consume Me"!?) that were noticeably missing. I was really surprised not to hear "Red Letters" (particularly since it's on Kevin Max's new covers project), and I think it would've made a huge statement for the guys to perform their latest collaboration from Toby's latest album, "Love Feels Like"--pointing to the future. Yes, we want more. Maybe the next cruise will be the Supernatural Cruise? The Free At Last Cruise? The Heavenbound Cruise? In that vein...
7. This is not the end.
Various sources--including Freudian slips from TobyMac, little leaks from Kevin Max, and even hints and confirmations from band members and folks surrounding the cruise--have straight up confirmed that fans will see dcTalk perform together again. Tait finished the concert by saying, "See you next time," and KMax straight up told the crowd that there'd be another cruise. There's definitely enough interest (and outrage over the limited venue) to warrant a tour, an album, an appearance at a major festival or something like that. The trio--particularly TobyMac--has woken up to the truth of the groundswell of support for dcTalk that exists "out there." The question that remains on the table is what "more" looks like. Did we all come back from the Intermission to find that dcTalk is now an "oldies" band, who assembles for annual or biannual cruises to play the hits? Or is there something else for dcTalk to speak into? In an age of racial tensions, I'd love to see the guys write new music--out of their obvious long-term friendship--speaking to unity, diversity and peace. They have a platform and instant credibility to make a difference there, singing a message they've been sharing since the beginning.
BONUS: Plenty of other things.
Stuart Garrard of Delirious was on the boat, and when asked about a future Delirious reunion, he gave the same answer dcTalk gave for years: "Not saying no, but there are no plans. Never say never." Sweet. Kevin Max provided the most emotionally charged moment of all the concerts with his rendition of "Creep" by Radiohead, which he said he was singing to God. It was the most personal confession we've heard from Max, which basically was a declaration of Max's admission of not fitting in as part of the Christian music scene, or outside it. It was awesome to see some poking between dcTalk and Newsboys. During Newsboys' set, keys player Jeff Frankenstein congratulated Tait on having "an upgrade" in his career by joining Newsboys, eliciting joyful boos from the crowd. During the dcTalk show, Toby referenced that comment, to which Tait replied, "You all know where my home is." Adding to the banter was Kevin's joke that the band wrote "My Friend (So Long)" about Newsboys drummer Duncan Phillips. Also, it was awesome to see Otto "Sugarbear" Price rocking out on the bass guitar.
Marcus Hathcock is the Executive Editor of NewReleaseToday.com, a husband to Savannah, father of three and a worship leader living in Boise. He has released an EP, Songs For Tomorrow, and occasionally blogs at mheternal.com.