Nearly 8,000 people filled nearly every seat in the U.S. Cellular Center on Saturday night to witness three hours of higher power pop in The Rock & Worship Roadshow.
For just $10 at the door, it was the biggest bargain for one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen since the early days of the arena, when the hottest bands around could pack ‘em in.
It was hot all right – temperature-wise and spirit-wise, led by MercyMe, one of the hottest bands on the contemporary Christian scene.
The lineup also included Tenth Avenue North, Hawk Nelson and Sanctus Real. John Reuben also played a short set, but it was before the scheduled 6 p.m. start time, while I was still circling in search of a parking spot. So I missed him.
All the bands have had hits on the radio and in contemporary worship settings, so it was especially thrilling to see them in person, with all the trappings of a sophisticated arena road show. It was loud, it was visually exciting and it was impossible to sit still.
And all the bands made sure the crowd knew they had gathered for the greater good.
“We’re not doing this for God,” said Mike Donehey, lead singer for Tenth Avenue North. “We’re doing this because of God.” Then the high-energy foursome, which had just slowed down the beat for “Hold my Heart,” continued with the beautiful ode to mercy, “By Your Side.” The best part of this young band’s performance was being able to clearly hear its message and see the lyrics on the projection screen.
Pulsing lights and blasts of smoke heralded the arrival of punk pop Hawk Nelson, with the driving beat of “You Have What I Need.” More than a few heads were banging and fists were pumping before lead singer Jason Dunn slowed it down with the band’s message, followed by “One Little Miracle.”
Cell phone glows swept wide arcs on the band’s biggest mainstream radio hit, “Everything You Ever Wanted,” before cranking it back up with a touch of theatrics on the up-tempo “Let’s Dance.”
Sanctus Real channeled U2 with “Beautiful Day,” but put its own spin on the song it covered for the charitable project “In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa.” The Ohio band has plenty of hits of its own to unleash, from the anthem drive of “I’m Not Alright” and “Don’t Give Up” to the calm serenity of “Eternal” and “Whatever You’re Doing (Something Heavenly)” and the instantly recognizable “Sing.”
MercyMe, which also finds plenty of crossover on the pop charts, wrapped up the concert with a glorious hourlong set.
All its songs are hits, including “Here With Me,” “You Reign,” “Holy is the Lord” and “So Long Self.”
But none is as beautiful as “I Can Only Imagine,” which lead singer Bart Millard wrote in the years following his father’s death. It was sung nearly four years ago at my nephew’s funeral, and still brings me to tears as it ponders what Heaven will bring.
After the glorious anthem “God With Us,” the band quietly left the stage as the crowd sang an a cappella benediction to bring the road show to a reverent close.
– Diana Nollen, The Gazette