NQC 10: Thursday night
Good morning, gospel music fans. By now, most of you surely know this drill. I listen and write, you read and tell me how dumb/wrong/stupid/sinful/add-your-own-complaint I am. So there’s no need to make the preamble all that preambly, except to say how great it is to have MNP back with me this year. I’ve already resumed giving her bum directions everywhere, and both of us inadvertently tried to steal someone else’s Buick crossover in the parking lot tonight (sorry Illinois WARPS 48!). In other words, things are back to normal.
Here we go.
Tonight was … strange. By which I mean, uneven, and regularly vexing, irregularly and inefficiently paced, and sometimes just plain weird (illustrative data point: at one point during the Isaacs’ set, Ben Isaacs rested his head way down on his mother’s shoulder while she sang to him and asked her to “hold me.”) The most persistent strangeness had to do with the way the sets were (not) threaded together. Michael Booth was the intermittent emcee, but just as often, the link between two performances would be these odd and super-low quality a/v captures off the internet. There were two particularly confusing selections. The first was the comedian Steve Harvey “introducing” God. No context or anything. Just the video. And then, “Welcome, the Dove Brothers!” Alrighty then. The other, titled “That’s my king,” was a scratchy audio-only segment of a black preacher riffing on ways to describe God’s greatness. The NQC producers had put behind this clip a swelling cinematic soundtrack that grew increasingly louder until it ended with piped in applause. Huh? A few people clapped but I think most of us were just profoundly perplexed.
This was indicative of the clunky and overlong transitions between sets in general that prevented the night from ever feeling like it had some momentum or coherence. One group would come on, and whatever energy that was generated never managed to carry over to the next artist because usually there were these intrusions from the video screen that had very little connection to the music.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that something was off whatever it is. A friend of mine texted to say as much when we both arrived, and then I ran into some friends of my parents’ and they said the same thing too … and added that last night was the worst NQC evening experience they’ve been to in ages. Maybe it’s the crowd? Attendance seemed visibly down (by at least 500-600, maybe more?). Hard to hold a room that big when it’s half empty by 9:30.
Nevertheless, the night was not without its moments.
THE BIG STUFF
Oh Taranda Greene, how do I heart thee? I have already counted the ways, and counted again, and still you steal the show, beggaring the lowly blogger’s descriptive capacity to out-enthuse himself from one year to the next. I could give you a run down of their set (“Highway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Heaven,” and a big monster anthem from her forthcoming album with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and the
Alleluia Hallelujah chorus, which became the evening’s finale), and I could try to convey to you all the astonishing things she did with her voice (and how fantastic she looked), and how she can take an old threadbare piece of furniture like “Highway” and transform it into a vehicle for a cascade of stylistic triumphs – tonight, she managed to sing it as, in this order, a lovely descant, a blues confession, and a show stopping roof-raiser. And that was just the first song. But you’ve read me do something very like this more than once.
It’s not that Greene is the only gifted female vocalist in gospel music. But it increasingly seems inarguably true that she alone in southern gospel today possesses the kind of gifts that would stand her in good stead on a Broadway stage, in the pop solo world, or leading an angel choir. Which is to say, she may sing in the world of southern gospel, but she is not of this lowly world alone.
Jason Crabb turned in perhaps the finest 10 minutes of solo work I’ve heard from the NQC stage … ever. But the best aspect of his set was the little three-piece golden nugget of a combo he had playing for him: Blaine Johnson on keyboards, Michael Rowsey on drums and the masterful Lori Sykes on bass. In a night filled with overproduced tracks of 50+ piece orchestras cranked up to earsplitting levels, these three managed to produce the most exquisite sound by playing far few notes at far a more pleasant volume. Crabb’s set consisted of his walking on stage, calling out some songs to the pit, the trio laying down a bar or two of intro … and then the four of them proceeding to bring to life the music making process (as opposed to performing some stuff by rote) more vividly than anything I’ve experienced – really felt – in a long, long time.
Collingsworth Family: Alright, so they’re kinda cheesy and the wholesomeness rolls off them in uncynical waves of guilt-inducing happiness of seemingly the purest form, but they know how to put on a variety show of considerable accomplishment. The set opened with an acapella arrangement of “Take Time to Be Holy,” a captivating bit of unfudged and fully live harmonizing that included a downward modulation that made me laugh out loud in its clever subtlety. It was like listening to six Martins. The highlight, though, was a trio consisting of the two oldest daughters and Kim Collingsworth. The women created a stackless sound (as far as I can tell, the family uses no vocal stacks at all) built on the foundation of Kim Collingsworth’s rich, warm and supple alto (her voice reminds me a great deal of Kim Lord’s). Aside from the latter’s unfortunate wardrobe choice (she looked a bit too much like the fruit of the loom grape) and Phil Jr.’s struggle to lay down a clean melody with clearly pronounced words, the set was an undiluted pleasure.
BONUS STANDOUTS AND OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING
Sisters: The good news? Sisters (formerly known as the Ruppes, minus mother Brenda) got some mainstage time tonight. The bad news? They got stuck singing (with the Booths) this musically aimless, conceptually empty-headed tune about brothers and sisters (get it … because they’re “Sisters” and two of the Booths are brothers? Get it?). I would complain about the fact that the song had two borrowed bridges (“We Will Stand” and “We’ll Work Till Jesus Comes”), but these were the best parts of the song. Missed opportunity of the night.
Ball Brothers: more siblings! These guys were making their mainstage debut and they certainly have the right look. Think SSQ with shared DNA. Unfortunately tonight’s performance did not find them quite ready for primetime. Partly they may have been trying too hard. They sang a country gospel tune and a vocal-jazz number after opening with a quartety song, leaving very little lasting impression or coherent image of themselves beyond their familial connection and their big toothy smiles. But more fundamentally, they just didn’t sing terribly well. I mean, two the four vocalists double up in the ensemble (they don’t have a bass singer) and even so, they were still singing four parts most of the time. Eeesh. That said, they worked the crowd well and got a good response out of their big closer, largely on the basis of their front man’s family-savvy set up of the tune.
The Hoppers: Claude Hopper, bless his heart, just ran their set right into the ground with his Uncle Remis schtick. Kim Hopper did her best to salvage things, and of course she knows how to command the show. Pretty quickly, though, the sheer showiness of her presence started to get a wee titch distracting. She remains almost constantly in a state of highly affected queen-diva motion. What with the waving of the arms and the contrived movements of the head, it appeared as though she were conducting a youth orchestra in Flight of Bumblebee. Mind you, she looked like a million bucks and sings amazingly with amazing consistency, but at the point in “On His Authority” where she actually saluted the crowd, it occurred to me that she really just needs to star in her own Broadway revue in Vegas and get it out of her system.
The Perrys: they opened sans Tracy Stuffle with the somewhat forgettable title cut off their new album, Blue Skies. Eventually Tracy joined them for a few numbers, told some heart attack jokes, and they closed huge with “If You Knew Him,” which has simply taken on a life of its own with audiences, against which I am powerless to resist.
The Booth Brothers: they followed Jason Crabb and his All-Star Band, opening with one of their new Lari Goss tunes, a massively overarranged and gigantically orchestrated thumbsucker of a song that had the consistency of thickly piled ballroom muslin (which was appropriate, since the song sounded like nothing so much as supper club slow-dance number). Historians of Lari Goss’s late style will, I think, come to refer to this as his woodwind phase, so enamored is he with sleepy oboes and drowsy tenor saxes and woozy clarinets and willowy penny whistles. Whatever else they accomplish, theirs is a decidedly sedating effect. Things were only complicated by the set being organized around a bunch downtempo numbers, including “Look For Me” and “Then I Met the Master” (these two songs were broken up by a strange somba-style tune that really would have gone down better with a shot of Cuervo). I struggled with “Then I Met,” not only because it was so slow, but because by the ending, it slammed the upper deck with an unrelenting wall of sound that resembled the finale of a show choir contest.
Michael Booth was in fine form as emcee for both his group and the entire evening. He has a gifted way of deconstructing the artificial nature of the emcee’s role, poking fun at how anyone in that position is required to stall, make cornball jokes, play to the cheap seats, and generally keep things at the lowest-common denominator, all the while doing just these very things. But he struggled tonight vocally, constantly sliding up underneath but never quite fully onto his pitches. He seemed to be trying to compensate by aggressively attacking his consonants and really laying into key phrases. Everybody has off nights of course, and no doubt he’s tired, particularly after talking all night as emcee. But it was hard not to feel kinda bad for him.
Greater Vision: They opened with video clip of horrendous quality from the 1990s when Allman was covering “I’m Too Near Home” with during his first stint with the group. Stan Whitmire then kicked off the song live and off they went. Allman is such an assuring and self-assured presence … it makes him as much a joy to watch and as to hear. Of course he had spend a lot of time in his upper registers to satisfy the comeback curiosity, but he is perhaps most pleasant in his mid and lower ranges. Wolfe spent a lot of time rambling … at one point talking to and about this couple from Spain who heard about the NQC online and decided to make this their first trip to the U.S., and then they liked it so much their first night here they bought some tickets for some of the hotel staff to come too (I told you it was a strange night!). The center of the set was a protracted rendition of “I Will Serve Thee,” for which I’m pretty sure Whitmire discovered and executed some passing tones previously unheard by human ears. The good news: No “O Holy Night.” The bad news: a very noticeably unrehearsed version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Rest, rehearse … whatever.
Isaacs: a disjointed and (contributing the night’s off-kilter feel) a strange set that lurched and crawled from a hymns medley to a turgid rendition of “Yours and Mine” to a saccharine cover of “Little Jimmy Brown,” off their new album.
BFA: alas, one of the worst sets I’ve ever heard from them. Too many slow songs consistently sung out of tune (Bill Shivers was all over the place tonally, which is unlike him). The resulting sound was soupy and sloppy, only further muddled by the instruments and tracks overpowering the pitchy vocals.
Dr. David Jeremiah: It’s the darnedest thing. Every time Jeremiah comes to NQC, he just seems to have finished a new book. Funny how that works out. This year, he’s written a book that allegedly tries to figure out what’s going on the with the economy. As far as I can tell, what he’s seems to have discovered (aside from how to tell “jokes” in which he compares himself to Charles Stanley and Josh McDowell) is that one way for a preacher to get through an economic downturn is to write a book about the “coming economic Armageddon” and sell it to captive audiences at gigs like NQC. Altogether now: “It’s nice work if you get it …”
MTQ: I was out for an Erhler’s break during the opening song of their set, but MNP commandeered my notebook and scrawled: “painfully slow, putrid harmony, and sounds like Martin Cook at the piano.” By the time I got back to my seat, things had become simply loud and nondescript.
HisSong: The tenor, whose voice I am fond of, is the group’s passport to distinction, and that seems to lead him to oversing at times, but I enjoyed them and it was nice to see them back on the mainstage again and sounding more stable and mature over last.
The Webbs: MNP says the son’s lead voice in “Every Knee Shall Bow” was quite pleasant. FWIW, MNP doesn’t say that kind of thing about just any ole body.
Troy Peach and McCray Dove have now advanced to the sudden death-run-off round for Widest Vibrato of the convention.
Quote of the night: “I love live bands, just not enough to pay for them.” –Michael BoothEmail this Post