NEEDTOBREATHE Bayou Music Center September 5, 2014
The divide between Christian and secular rock might be one of the most overblown distinctions within pop music there is. It's real, but sometimes it all seems so unnecessary. People of faith do just fine in many if not most professions (even journalist!), but those who pick up electric guitars are often judged on how Christian their music is rather than how much it rocks. And readers accustomed to coverage of heathen artists may tune out a review the second someone drops that C-word. Too bad.
NEEDTOBREATHE is probably used to that. Even the South Carolina trio's own label -- a big one, Atlantic -- downplays their faith in its publicity materials. But the chorus of "Wasteland," the opener on this year's Rivers In the Wasteland album, is a pretty straightforward paraphrase of Romans 8:31: "If God is on my side, who can be against me?" So it's not like they're hiding anything under a bushel.
But in today's world, few bands indeed last three records on one of the biggest labels in the game without capturing the hearts (and dollars) of fans who may be lucky to go to church on Christmas and Easter, if at all. They've done well enough at it that Rivers entered the Billboard 200 at No. 3 this past April, and drew a near-capacity crowd to Bayou Music Center Friday. NEEDTOBREATHE seem to be of the mind that 75 minutes of soaring anthems, hook-filled singalongs and classic-rock power is the best testimony they can give, thank you very much.
Brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart plus old friend Seth Bolt, NEEDTOBREATHE aren't too far removed from Kings of Leon or Band of Horses, cosmic rockers whose guitars have been known to peal off whole constellations of notes. Whether it's the familial connection they share with the Followill clan or they just listened to a lot of the same records growing up, the Rineharts also write big-sounding songs that spell out in detail their most intimate moments. Closing out the main set with "Brother," which documents their reconciliation in the months leading up to Rivers, was one of many Friday.
But they can throw more than just fastballs. Not for nothing did they slip in several bars of Modest Mouse's "Float On" early in the set. Another curve, "Drive All Night," came close to what country radio is playing nowadays without any mention of tailgates. "Something Beautiful," from the band's 2009 Atlantic debut The Outsiders, is slick enough to to be fit for a standard network-TV drama's end-of-episode montage, but sincerity doesn't have to amount to schlock. "Washed By the Water" mashed up a gospel call and response with torrents of garage-rock squall, making plain the Rineharts have heard a few Staples Singers records in the bargain. This band has a lot of soul.
So if you must hang a label on NEEDTOBREATHE, just call them Southern rockers. "Oh Carolina" worked a country-Zeppelin groove they stretched out long enough to rival a prime Allmans jam. "Girl Named Tennessee," another older one from The Outsiders, was perfect boogie 2.0; just take away quite a bit of the boozy "whoo-hoo"-ing you might hear at a Skynyrd show -- or at Eric Church, whose album from this year is also called The Outsiders.
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But even that doesn't quite tell the whole story. Take away of of all the anger and frustration that drives so much rock music -- whether "Satisfaction" or more current stuff -- and replace it with music made by the same instruments, using the same chords, that comes from a place of pure wonder, hard-won faith and, just as often, unadulterated joy. "Keep Your Eyes Open," for example, radiated the kind of strength and determination that comes from having been severely tested, but there was not a single ounce of negative energy in that room throughout NEEDTOBREATHE's entire set.
Sure, sure. For people who struggle with the idea that music can be a means of reaching an otherworldly plane, a way of meeting God (if you will), the very concept might sound improbable or even downright wrong. Admittedly, it's a little tough to believe unless you witnessed it in person. But NEEDTOBREATHE definitely held up their end.
Personal Bias: I suppose it was inevitable I would end up liking a band with a song called "More Heart, Less Attack."
The Crowd: Largely people in their twenties; a conspicuous lack of the usual band T-shirts. Not much of a bar line, either.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I really think I should have studied law."
Random Notebook Dump: What are those teepees doing onstage?
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