Now that I’ve frustrated a few diehard Motley Crue fans and lovers of big-hair, big-show ’80s music with a recent column on the Crue’s bawdy, explosive show last month, I turn the focus 180 degrees: to the Casting Crowns show at Alltel Arena last Friday.
Put simply, I went to a rock concert and a church service broke out, or maybe that should be vice-versa. The rest of the 4,714 fans, including hundreds of teens from church groups, who filled most of the lower bowl of Alltel Arena seemed to expect, and enjoy, the preachy style of the show, not that I was put off. But with more than two hours of stage time, Casting Crowns managed just 15 songs. Granted, they were good, melodic, pop-rock songs, with solid musicianship from two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer (bald, large Andy Williams) who kept his rock-star persona maintained for all but a late, rousing solo. The group also had nice vocals, especially when the two female members of the group (Melodee DeVevo and the seven months’ pregnant Megan Garrett) harmonized with lead singer Mark Hall.
But it featured a lot of proselytizing, and as Christian contemporary music concerts go, I’m told by other sources that it was the preachiest show at Alltel yet. I saw Michael W. Smith a few months back and though he got in a few messages, he also managed a lot of hit songs over his whole generation of a career. Same with Steven Curtis Chapman, who had Casting Crowns as an opening act last year. Maybe Casting Crowns, with two albums including the new “LifeSong,” hasn’t built up enough of a portfolio yet for the usual headliner since the group formed as a youth ministerial band in Daytona Beach, Fla., and relocated to Georgia in 2001.
The lyrics, all shown on the video screen (another first for us), were straightforward — God, Jesus, Father, Holy Spirit, etc. — not mystical, making you wonder, “What did that mean?” Some were funny, such as the lines “What if the family turned to Jesus, Stopped asking Oprah what to do” in the song “What If His People Prayed.”
Hall, who’s got a Nashville-ready country singing voice (more Toby than Kenny), added a sermonette to nearly every song. Imagine the Crue’s Vince Neil talking on and on about the meaning of “Girls, Girls, Girls” and how it relates to our lives. He’d be 20 seconds into it before crazed fans screamed, “Shut up and play the song.” But not here, not these folks. They relished the revivalist approach.
The show was as oddly paced as they come. After five songs, we had our first break. Volunteers passed out pamphlets for the group’s pet AIDS in Africa project while the fancy video screen was a running advertisement for the new Gospel network, which Hall said was much more necessary than MTV. Then, the band came back for a few more songs, then gave way for a 20-minute sermon by Tony Nolan, sort of a Christian comic with some goofy impressions and a George-Carlin-on-Jesus shtick who preached on about “transplanting your heart.” A few folks stood up and got saved. Then Casting Crowns came back for a solid final set, which, believe it or not, really rocked. And any sinful residue left over in the arena from the Crue was, we guess, completely washed away.
Next up for Alltel: jam band Widespread Panic this week, and Alison Krauss next week. From Crue to Krauss with Crowns and Panic in between, that’s covering the musical gamut.