Christian rock has long been criticized as a sanctuary for poorly executed knockoffs of established secular acts. The Winter Jam Tour Spectacular concert at the Sprint Center on Friday revealed that the stereotype remains valid.
Yet one outlier made a bold artistic statement during his set at the traveling Christian music festival. An audience of about 11,000 took in the five-hour concert.
Lecrae easily outshone the other nine acts on the bill. Many observers accuse the controversial rapper of being a bad influence on young fans.
While the performances of most of his tour mates were shamelessly derivative and deliberately bland, Lecrae was electrifyingly raw. By proselytizing over Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank),” he acknowledged his musical reference points.
The canny decision made his colleagues’ clumsy efforts to disguise their brazen appropriations seem all the more distasteful.
Augmented by a live drummer, a hype man and a DJ, Lecrae delivered a scruffy version of his recent hit “I’m Turnt.” Colton Dixon — a young star who was greeted with the sort of passionate screams usually reserved for boy bands like One Direction during his set earlier in the evening — sang the hook on “Background.”
Lecrae’s testimonials were correspondingly convincing. Noting that many of his childhood friends from Houston were dead or imprisoned, Lecrae said that, “I’m only here tonight because of the grace of God.”
The veteran band Newsboys demonstrated its chameleon-like qualities during an entertainingly eclectic headlining performance.
Front man Michael Tait sang “God’s Not Dead” from a boom lift, and during “Jesus Freak,” Duncan Phillips’ drum kit spun in the fashion of the stunt associated with Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee. Newsboys’ most effective selection, however, was “That Home,” a tender song dedicated to Tait’s late mother.
The sunny pop duo Love & the Outcome, the Americana-tinged Tenth Avenue North and the strikingly vulnerable singer/songwriter Plumb were among the other appealing acts. In explaining the role faith played in overcoming her marital difficulties, Plumb said that “God took his gloves off and we told Satan where he could stick it.”
Similar affirmations were made throughout the night. A sermon by Nick Hall and a request for donations by NewSong’s Russ Lee may have been lengthier than the entire sets of some performers. Noting that admission to Winter Jam was $10, Lee suggested that “if we were just charging on talent, you’d owe me money.”
The talent wasn’t equally distributed among Friday’s performers, but the best artists at Winter Jam were worth far more than a Hamilton.