By BRUCE DENNILL
Newsboys / Rhema, Johannesburg
A brand as well as a band, Newsboys have been going since 1985, with the band that performed in Randburg on 1 August, the latest in a progression of line-up changes together as a quartet since 2009. That is, happily, long enough to not only have developed excellent onstage chemistry, but to also have accumulated a large fanbase who only know the band in this incarnation.
The setlist includes some tracks from further back than that period, including signature tune He Reigns. The songs are packed together, fitted into a polished, carefully arranged package. Backing tracks are matched with choreographed visuals featuring the band in the same outfits they’re wearing on the night, so it appears you’re seeing double from time to time. This precision is impressive, giving singer Michael Tait, keyboardist Jeff Frankenstein, guitarist Jody Davis and drummer Duncan Phillips a great platform to show off their chops.
Tait doesn’t stop, grooving, prancing and stalking up and down the length of the stage as he shows off a vocal range that extends from a rolling baritone when he speaks to the crowd between songs to a high range three octaves or more above that in the crescendos of the songs. Phillips keeps up easily behind the kit, leaping to his feet between fills and raising his arms above his head before sitting down again to beat his snare and toms to within an inch of their lives.
The energy and the pace – the Newsboys don’t do long call-and-response refrains or anything of that sort – mean the concert whizzes by. The fact that they haven’t performed their latest big hit, God’s Not Dead, from the film of the same name, seems odd until, after the first “Thank you and goodnight!” greeting from Tait, the excerpt from the film in which the band appears is screened, underlining their multi-media appeal (they’ve also released books) and setting the scene for them to return for that showstopper before closing out the evening with a their punchy version of Revelation Song.
Stylistically, the concert as a whole (including Tait’s mid-set homily) feels constructed to appeal to young audiences – no bad thing for artists who clearly have a desire to communicate their beliefs in a way that doesn’t intimidate listeners. That part of the crowd are likely to feel well-served, though audiences who first started following the Newsboys when Australian Peter Furler was the driving force might have appreciated more of an overall view in terms of the band’s long, storied career.