Ranking art is an untenable proposition and usually only done by fools.
So with those thoughts in mind, I can still come out and say that Needtobreathe's Friday night show at The Depot was even better than the South Carolina rock band's 2011 album "The Reckoning." And that is high praise, considering that I believed then and still do that Needtobreathe's "The Reckoning" was the best album released in 2011.
In a 105-minute show, band leaders Bear and Bo Rinehart, along with long-time bassist Seth Bolt and touring keyboard player Josh Lovelace, delivered a show that was dynamic in every sense of the word, with high-octane, pounding drums accompanying purposeful anthems such as "The Outsiders" and "Drive All Night" as well as intimate, acoustic renditions of "More Time" and the new "Difference Maker," an impossibly pretty song that affirms that while the band is not a "Christian band," they are a band of faith: "I am a difference maker. Oh, I am the only one that speaks to Him. Yes, I am the friendliest of friends with God."
The rear of the set was fashioned as an old-fashioned typewriter, with the letters re-arranged so that "The Reckoning" was spelled out. Throughout the show, the letters would shine in different primary colors, and a fairly advanced lighting system for a venue of that size was in place. I don't know if it was intended or not, but all night there were lights shining up from the stage into lead singer and guitarist Bear's face, laying bare his anguished expressions, as if he was your older brother on Halloween night scaring you as he shined a flashlight from under his chin towards the top of his face. Bear actually seemed to go hoarse by the end of the evening, and while that is a quibble when reviewing a show, the guttural passion he unleashed all night with his sandpapery, soulful Southern voice made it perfectly understandable.
Bo, usually on Bear's right, has always been the band's unsung secret weapon, and he continued his role as he played electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and later drums while harmonizing with his brother than only siblings can summon. This is a band that knows what an encore is: after beginning the encore with "Difference Maker," the band closed the night with a rumbling take on the title track of its latest album, with Lovelace, Bolt and Bo pounding away on marching-band snare drums as opening act Matthew Mayfield joined Bear on guitar, with an impassioned snippet from Lucinda Williams' "Joy" thrown in for good measure. At the end of the show, I felt exhausted and punch-drunk, but it was a punch-drunk love.
On record, I have never been a fan of prior songs such as "Girl From Tennessee" and "Washed By the Water," but live they turned into show-stoppers, and even a cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" sounded near unrecognizable with a fury that Johnny Cash never mustered. With a flair for the dramatic, Bear is prone to speaking to the audience before and mid-song with an urgency that can quiet the crowd, but interestingly enough he never has to announce that he is leading a religious experience like Bruce Srpingsteen at his most exuberant does. The music itself is a religious experience.
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