The Independence Events Center was filled with the sights and sounds of a Christian praise and worship service on Friday. Members of a demonstrative audience of about 5,000 celebrated their faiths at a concert by Chris Tomlin, Tenth Avenue North and Rend Collective.
“This isn’t a cult,” Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North said. “If you see people acting freaky it’s because they can’t contain their gratitude.”
Throughout the concert, members of the audience jumped for joy, raised their arms in postures of praise and used the lyrics that ran across multiple screens to help them sing along to the Christian rock hymns.
Several of Tomlin’s compositions are mainstays of contemporary Christian worship services. The native Texan opened his 90-minute headlining appearance with “How Great Is Our God,” his best-known piece.
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Although Tomlin sang the familiar anthem with conviction, the song lacked the vitality that it possesses in more intimate settings. Friday’s concert revealed that Tomlin’s work is less potent in an arena than in a traditional house of worship.
Much of the disconnect is rooted in Tomlin’s bland rock approach. He and his four-piece backing band sounded like a tranquilized version of the rock giants U2.
The underlying significance of Tomlin’s material was only fully revealed when the arrangements incorporated the audience’s hearty singing. The sound of thousands of fervent voices singing in unison was far more stirring than the generic rock of Tomlin’s band.
A 20-minute question-and-answer session positioned in the middle of Tomlin’s performance was a welcome respite from the music. Tomlin explained that his best songs “became the fabric of people’s lives” because they’re “accessible and simple” He added that he takes his cues from the Bible.
“No one needs my opinion,” Tomlin said. “Why don’t we write what God’s already written Himself?”
That sentiment was reflected in “Psalm 100,” a selection based on a biblical text.
Tenth Avenue North, a quintet from Florida, played peppy songs of encouragement in an agreeable but anonymous soft-rock style.
In spite of its wholesale appropriation of the musical and visual style of Mumford & Sons, Rend Collective was the most intriguing band of the evening. The only significant differences between Rend Collective and the secular British hitmakers were the band’s Irish accents and overtly Christian lyrics.
Even so, Rend Collective’s jubilant and somewhat messy sound was far more compelling — and consequently a more effective conveyor of spiritual intent — than Friday’s headliner.
Chris Tomlin set list
How Great Is Our God; Waterfall; I Will Follow; Psalm 100; Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies); Holy is the Lord; Jesus Messiah; I Will Rise; Our God; The Table; Jesus Loves Me; At the Cross (Love Ran Red); Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone); God's Great Dance Floor; White Flag; 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).