Averyfineline on the frontlines: GV

Location: Arnold, Mo.
Setting: First Baptist Church; large but informal
Occasion: Real Evangelism Conference
Average age guesstimate: 57
Opening act: local choir (despite some infelecities, choir gets more sustained applause than GV)
Attendance: ca 500-600
Cost: whatever you want to put in chicken buckets as they pass

Thirty easy minutes: That’s about the best way to describe Greater Vision’s set at the 21st Annual Real Evangelism Conference. GV has been working with Bailey Smith ministries, which runs the REC, for a lot of years now. And obviously these kinds of partnerships are bread and butter for a group like GV. Reliably friendly and receptive audiences. Light workload, brisk product sales in the lobby. But I don’t feel like it’s terribly fair to judge them as artists or performers by these gigs. This one tonight could have been phoned in save for “Common Garments.” At any rate, tonight was just kinda blah. They sang six songs in just over thirty minutes …very little crowd interaction, though what there was of it was typical genius showmanship from Wolfe. I gather there is a certain agreed-upon arrangement between the groups that variously perform with Bailey (GV, Karen Peck & New River, Alison Durham, The Crabbs, The Booth Brothers and Mercy’s Mark) and his troupe of traveling evangelists (among them Jerry Falwell, who’s speaking tomorrow night … oh my). That is, Gerald Wolfe agrees not to upstage the likes of Falwell or Paige Patterson, and in return GV gets to continue with this plum gig.

Mind you, it wouldn’t be difficult to upstage this bunch of paint-by-number preachers. Haven’t these guys heard any new jokes in the last thirty years? Have they no other way of endearing themselves to the local crowd than to pander and fawn over the local choir (whose performance tonight was earnest but uneven, or perhaps it was just the song selection) and the attendant orchestra (some major horn issues, alas)? In comparison, Wolfe was all easy charm and understated grace … he never moved more than an inch or two from the same spot, never did more with has arms or hands than motion slightly, never spoke above a conversation voice … but the room was his for as long as he wanted it. And GV didn’t even break a sweat. Opened with “I Was Blind” (ugh) and “There’s Still Room” from Faces, which were both very meticulously rendered but serviceable as live performances go (the lackluster choir was filtering in through the back of the sanctuary all during these songs so there was no need to try to gather up the room at that point). “My Name is Lazarus” perked things up and no one seemed to mind as much as me that “Samaritan’s Heart” is a piece of musical swiss cheese, full of dead spots and awkward fissures and gaps where nothing happens and I feel awkward for the performers who have a look of equal parts embarrassment and annoyance in their eyes during these long caesuras. “Common Garments” was the high spot. It seemed to awaken Rodney Griffin and Jason Waldrup, shake them out of the familiarity of the newest material from Faces. Then Wolfe wrapped things up with “It is Well.” Of course the place lit up like a hockey game on goal, but the remarkable thing is that Wolfe really wasn’t doing anything that out of the ordinary for his voice. He didn’t deviate from the Faces cut of the song much. It wasn’t like there was some “live” moment. He’s simply capable of rousing a room of 600 Baptists with his everyday stuff. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Waldrup stands over there gently pushing the sliders up throughout the tune, so that by the time it ends, the stracks can support the intensity of Wolfe’s voice and reinforce the Big Finish. People don’t seem to mind when it’s too loud and they like it.

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