By BRUCE DENNILL
Michael W Smith / Rhema, Johannesburg / 29 May 2015
Perhaps it’s because his latest (other than a recent Christmas collection) album Sovereign is already a year old and is not really either a marketing priority or of novelty value to the singer himself (in that there’s still the thrill of trying out a new song for a new audience), but it was interesting to note two things at Michael W Smith’s Johannesburg concert.
One was that around half of the running time was dedicated to well-known church set regulars (including Matt Redman’s Heart Of Worship and Kathryn Scott’s The Air I Breathe, many of which Smith has not had much part in popularising, as was the case with the material on his phenomenally successful Worship and Worship Again releases.
Two was that the response to these standards was more enthusiastic to Smith’s album tracks, strong and well performed as they were, by a band including fellow SA favourite Stu G on guitar.
This could have made for an awkward disconnect between artist and audience, but that didn’t happen. Take out the consideration that people had paid a fairly steep price for tickets and then enjoyed what was essentially a high-quality worship service and there was no other factor that took away from the effectiveness of Smith’s presentation of his material and message.
The singer was visibly and audibly tired to begin with, but Smith’s combination of experience and being a return visitor to both South Africa and Rhema meant that he enjoyed an easy, relaxed chemistry with the crowd from the start. The timbre of his voice took a while to catch up, being a little ragged for the first 45 minutes or so.
The newer songs, when they were fitted in, hinted at what is a widespread trend in contemporary worship circles: building compositions around lyrical and dynamic concepts that appeal to younger, often student-age audiences. So You Are The Fire and Sky Spills Over featured powerful, driving arrangments.
Miracle gave Smith the chance to directly share some of his personal testimony in a musical setting and, later on, Sovereign Over Us (the title-ish track of the latest album) provided the highlight of an evening marked by warmth and camaraderie rather than explosive performances or striking innovation.