Mark my words, or rather my wife’s words: Needtobreathe won’t stay “Christian” very long. Their last two albums were released by Word Records and Atlantic Records, both owned by Warner Music Group. So, technically the band is not solely “Christian” even now, but nonetheless the statement still holds. This is not to say that the band members won’t remain followers of Jesus Christ. It is more a commentary on CCM as a whole. It sucks. But there is hope and that hope is Needtobreathe. They told the 1,000 or so people in attendance on several occasions that they were a rock band and they proved it repeatedly. Thus, word will get out and these five guys will eventually have a following of people who don’t sit in pews and carry Bibles.
We arrived in the middle of their first song, “The Outsiders,” and they were already jamming. Two electric guitars, one bass, one set of drums, and a rocking keyboard. It wasn’t a creative mix of instruments, but great googly moogly did they mix well.
They have been a band for nearly eleven years now and it showed. They didn’t talk much, except to thank the audience. Appreciation was expressed for the attendance because as Bear Rinehart said, “We’ve played plenty of shows with eleven people.” The band’s maturity was something that might go unnoticed by a novice show attendee, but it was obvious to anyone who has seen one too many immature artists pop off about politics, spout some ridiculous joke, or just mumble about something because he or she feels that its artsy. Thankfully, none of that was on the menu. Needtobreathe simply played and played well. Their timing was spot on, maybe save one instance in a jam session. The fact that they nailed nearly every transition and tempo change was a testament to their maturity and skill as musicians because they changed pace a fair amount of times. They still had to look at the drummer for the ending blasts, but I got the idea it wasn’t so much for timing as it was that they were just communally experiencing rock music. Either way, they killed the beginning, middle, and end of every song. What more do you want of a rock group?
They covered The Beatles and Ben Harper and put them into one medley: “Better Way” and “Get Back.” The Beatles cover was a nice throwback; the Ben Harper inclusion made me smile for the next three songs. I’m always glad when artists, especially Christian, pay homage to talented artists. And let’s be honest, no one is more talented than Mr. Harper.
The most captivating song of the night, however, was, as expected, “Washed by the Water.” I wasn’t looking forward to it leading into the night because I knew it was their most famous song. It’s like John Mayer playing “Your Body is a Wonderland;” it’s cliché and gets all the irreverently annoying eighth grade girls to scream. And Christian eighth grade girls are even more irritating. All that said, as the night progressed I realized that these were musicians and a simple crowd-pleasing, generic performance of the song wouldn’t be enough. Sure enough, they saved it for last and belted it sans sound system. He sang, “Daddy was a preacher,” then half the crowd started singing along and the other half shooshed them. “No reason to get hostile with anyone,” Rinehart said as he stopped singing. “But, I can’t sing over all of you so shut up.” (jokingly, of course) And they did, for the most part. He began again. Two acoustic guitars and just Rinehart’s voice pounding out the words. Notes were strained and sometimes hard to hear in the back, but that little chapel’s roof got blown up by one man’s unamplified voice. It was soul and it was real.
By the way, Needtobreathe is a blend of Kings of Leon and Band of Horses. If you don’t believe me, buy a 12 dollar ticket to their show.