Passion. MercyMe. Michael W. Smith. Jonathan Thulin & Charmaine. Casting Crowns. Delirious? Jesus Culture. Hillsong. Hawk Nelson. Superchick. Newsboys. And now added to this list, for KING AND COUNTRY. What is this list, you say? Every artist I have seen in a live setting, be it actually live, or as a house concert. Whatever the case, there’s something unique and different in seeing the band/artist live, as while the songs recorded in studio are great for listening on a personal level, nothing beats the live atmosphere, and everyone else around you singing the exact same lyrics as you, and focusing on singing the words, that you don’t have to worry about how you will act when you’re watching someone live. You can express your enthusiasm and passion in such a setting, and that’s ok, because everyone else would be doing that as well. For it was only yesterday that myself, my brother and a few of my friends saw for KING AND COUNTRY live at the Sydney Opera House (frankly, I can only remember being at the Opera House only once, a long time ago for a Chinese Opera in fact, a performance I thoroughly hated!), so a chance to see arguably one of the most popular CCM acts at the moment in one of the most iconic Australian monumental landmarks was a definite yes for me. Let’s just say that I was absolutely enthralled by the band, and their set-list, though there were a few glaring omissions, was in fact on the money.
For those who may not know who the band is, and hasn’t gone seen them live (watching the band live is a must, for sometime during your life), let me give a crash-course on the band. Joel and Luke Smallbone, the duo who make up this band, have been a household name for quite some time, ever since their chart-topping song ‘Busted Heart’ hit the radio waves all those years ago, having taken the media, listeners and the whole general CCM industry by storm since their arrival to Fervent Records back in 2011. Relocating to Nashville in the early 1990s as their father pursued a new career opportunity, for KING AND COUNTRY has been touted many times as the Aussie version of Coldplay- with a focus more on unique instrumentation and anthemic moments of revelation, realisation and just plain powerful songs full of rousing declaration and proclamation. Fast forward 5 years and we’ve seen the duo mature and grow into a household name. Songs like “Fix My Eyes”, “Shoulders”, “Middle of Your Heart”, “Proof of Your Love”, “It’s Not Over Yet”, and more recently “Priceless”, and new songs “Joy”, “God Only Knows” and “Amen” are just some examples of the songs that the band has shown us, and the calibre of them. The band has managed to show us what it means to succeed in the CCM industry, while still delivering engaging and thoughtful melodies that encourage us to see and look beyond ourselves, as we challenge the status quo and ask ourselves the continuing question- ‘why’ and ‘why should this be if I don’t agree with the way that it is now’? Topics like self worth, identity, the human condition, and man’s relationship with the creator and the created, are some of the messages scattered through these songs.
Which takes us to the night of January 28th, 2019. The venue was sold out, naturally, so quickly that the band also unveiled an inpromtu 3:30pm matinee session, that was also sold out as well. Nevertheless, my brother and I purchased the tickets within the week of it being made available to purchase for the public, and now one day later, I am pleased to have gone to what I reckon is perhaps one of the moast high-energy concerts I’ve ever seen (maybe that and Newsboys/Superchick/Hawk Nelson, are tied for first place!). Even if you haven’t heard of the band, a concert like this is the way to go for someone to be introduced to the band. You had almost every song in the setlist that has been on the charts (with the exception of songs like ‘Crave’, ‘Middle of Your Heart’, ‘Pioneers’ and ‘O God Forgive Us’). ‘Joy’ was as rousing as ever, and ‘God Only Knows’ was probably the most emotional song of the night as both Joel and Luke decided to tackle the theme of loneliness and suicide. Personal songs were also present in ‘Without You’, a song about Luke’s delapitating auto-immune condition some time ago, while a song like ‘Burn The Ships’ was inspired by Luke’s wife Courtney and her own battle with prescription medication and the addiction that caused her to want her husband off the road so that she could focus on her recovery from something that I reckon is a condition people don’t know they have until they have it.
Vulnerabilty has always been a strong suit for the band, and much of their songs reflect this. ‘Shoulders’ enters worship territory, while ‘Priceless’ invites us all to place the importance of honour and respect on a woman as we all should. The band even unveiled a shortened version of ‘Messengers’ without Lecrae (personally I reckon they should’ve played a pre-recorded Lecrae track to present the song in full, yesterday), and the lesser known songs like ‘Fine, Fine Life’, ‘To the Dreamers’, ‘Never Give Up’ and ‘Control’- a song that literally took 5 years to write, and in different continents around the world and by different people who didn’t realise they were writing the same song; are all present on the song setlist. There was even a time for the brothers to share from their heart about Compassion International, as well as a 20 minute interval. During those twenty minutes, I wanted to search for the merchandise table. To think that I was going to purchase something during the interval? I was gravely mistaken…considering the amount of fans in the Opera House to begin with, I should’ve expected the merch table to be packed from the get go. Nevertheless, the next concet I go to, I ought to make an effort to visit the merchandise table- so I can get something to remember the concert by.
In a holistic sense, the concert was such a great time for myself, and I’m sure everyone else invited as well. The messages of hope, encouragement, and perseverance, and throwing a little bit of ‘God’ in there for good measure (not much, but enough for people to think about things beyond themselves), are all prevalent in these songs, with Joel and Luke creating a space for us to respond in whatever way we know how, and for us not to be worried about the person to the left or right, but to focus on ourselves and our response to such thought-provoking songs like the ones on the night. While there were a few times where we sat and stood depending on the tempo of the track, the night as a whole was invigorating and poignant. Considering that this concert was the first I had been to in 7 years, it was great to finally be reminded of the power of a live show. And how often at these events, God can show up in the most unexpected of moments. Many times throughout the show, when either Joel or Luke spoke, the whole auditorium went silent, as if people were on the edge of their seats, waiting for what the message behind such a personal story was. The band themselves have the ability to command the stage with their music, but their bigger stance for respecting women, chilvary, honour, respect, and being men of courage, is something I reckon has been overlooked amongst artists and the entertainment industry. For KING AND COUNTRY are an example that such men do still exist, giving us hope that we ourselves can become men and women that our families, and God Himself can be proud of!
If there was an award for ‘Emerging CCM band of the decade’, these men from down under would certainly receive it hands down; just like how Building 429 would receive it the decade before, and dcTalk (or would it be Newsboys, Jars of Clay or Third Day?) the decade before that. Joel and Luke Smallbone of the Aussie duo have continued to pave the way and show listeners, critics and musicians alike what it means to be a successful CCM band and have mainstream success in the process. While never wavering on their stance to share hope from a standpoint of God embodying the very essence of what hope and love are, the songs that they have unveiled to us challenge us to stand up for things like kindness, hope, joy and chivalry, consciously each day, to actively seek out moments where we ask the question why; and realise that while our own happiness may fade and rise depending on what season of life we are in, our joy is rooted in our identity in Christ Jesus!
And so to round up this ‘review’, the whole concert experience was great. The set list wasn’t perfect, and for me personally, the sharing about Compassion International was a little too long. But nit-picks aside, the concert was emotive, impacting and everything that a concert should be. Sure there was plenty of strobe lights, and so people with extreme epilepsy shouldn’t go to the concert, but all in all, the Opera House experience was one for the memory books. With so much passion, zeal, heart, emotion, enthusiasm, and everything else you can think of if you think of the word “vulnerability”; these brothers from down under have worn their heart on their sleeves with this concert, delivering an overarching theme that can be universally applied, regardless of your beliefs. For those who didn’t go to the concert…well, there’s always next time in Australia, or just travel to another continent and see them there. Til next time when the band comes to Australia (I will gladly pay again for whenever they come back to Sydney next), I will continue listening to their songs and promoting the artist to any of my friends. This is a band to remember and champion, as these brothers are as much needed in the CCM industry as they are needed (and hopefully welcomed) in the mainstream. Well done Joel and Luke for a fantastic night! I wonder what my next live artist experience will be? Here’s hoping it won’t be another 7 years until I watch another artist/band in a live setting again!
- Fix My Eyes
- Fine, Fine Life
- Messengers (without Lecrae)
- To the Dreamers
- It’s Not Over Yet
- Busted Heart (Acoustic)
- Fight On, Fighter
- God Only Knows
- Proof of Your Love
- Never Give Up
- Run Wild
- Without You
- Burn the Ships
- Little Drummer Boy (Encore)
RIYL: Coldplay, Jonathan Thulin, Moriah Peters, TRALA, Audio Adrenaline, Casting Crowns, U2