For King & Country is playing the big rooms much to this reviewer's surprise.
For King & Country/Jordan Feliz/KB
3 November 2016
It's probably indicative of my not keeping up with what's hip and happening in contempo' Christian music much as I once did that I was at least a bit surprised to see that For King & Country (FK&C) would be booked at a venue the size of Riverside Theater, with its nearly 2,500 seats.
Then, too, Milwaukee has a K-Love radio affiliate. Although it's not one of the city's higher rated stations, it is reasonable to believe that one of its current airplay mainstays would be popular enough to fill most of those luxuriously padded chairs.
And probably some degree of luxury is appropriate for a band of FK&C's sonic expansiveness. Standard rock band accoutrements on what looked like a triple-tiered set with what looked like glockenspiel and xylophone and lots of drums: a snare held over the shoulder of Heather Ledger-looking co-leader Luke Smallbone, a ginormous bass one emblazoned with their kind of goofy coat of arms logo, and tympani. The overall effect is like that of Imagine Dragons joining forces with Coldplay, with each act's intrinsic brand of hubris subsumed into something as expansive, yet at last a bit more substantive than the former and a far more cheerily anthemic than the latter. The most fair minded listener of cCm can't rightly claim many bands within its fold aspire to originality, but FK&C's reach-to-grasp ratio is higher than most.
But to what end and what manner of substance? To their possible credit in so far as general market crossover possibilities, they don't use much in the way of biblical buzzwords, yet they more or less convey scriptural concepts, as on "Fix My Eyes" and "It's Not Over Yet." However, basing a song on the first seven verses of 1 Corinthians 13 and using Eugene Peterson's doctrinally troubling The Message paraphrase, as they do for "Proof of Your Love," is no way to lend clarity to matters of eternity.
At other times, they may start out a song with what is, at best, an abiblical concept that leads to something actually within the Word, as on their opening "Run Wild, Live Free, Love Strong." That number, as were a couple others, abetted by rapper KB in leiu of Andy Mineo's couplets on the album version. The penchant for percussion on the part of the Smallbone brothers--Luke and his Russell Crowe-alike sibling, Luke--also gave the guest M.C. a natural setting for the brief bit of time he was allowed some solo shine.
Their gift for huge choruses can pull heartstrings, as is the magic wrought by Luke's song "Without You" to his wife when he was on the precipice of death from a rare disease. That gift can also rouse listeners in the name of a worthwhile cause that intersects with their faith. "Priceless," the titular song to the dramatic movie about human trafficking in which Joel plays a lead role and Luke acts as co-producer, hits that nail soundly. And though it's their biggest hit to date, they did well not to save it for their send-off.
Before one of their last numbers Joel spoke of his pursuit of U.S, citizenship after his family, including his and Luke's sister, Rebecca (who changed her last name to St. James before her own run of '90s-'00s Christianny radio hits of intermittent wonderfulness), moved here from Australia and suffered some harrowing times before establishing themselves. Toward the end of that spiel, he rightly proclaimed that political answers to the human condition are divisive and temporary. Saying, however, that Jesus Christ can be the rallying point for all humankind only gets it right in so far as everyone being Christian. To give him the benefit of the doubt, here's hoping he's more of a optimist, maybe even a premillenialist, than a universalist. But, taking cues from The Message as he and his bro' do, and their sis's apparent penchant for emergent church thought, who knows?! Regardless, the bearded Smallbone's diatribe preceded the pretty theologically on point "O Lord Forgive Us."
Also on point is FK&C's choice to partner with child sponsorship organization Compassion International. My last cCm concert before this featured a presentation by World Vision. That's a less palatable group not only because of their ecumenical stance that obviates an insistence on strictly Christian evangelization of their young clientele, but also because of the scandal earlier this year wherein roughly $10 million was funneled off to Hamas by at least one Muslim plant within the group. If a musical act playing the evangelimarket wants a symbiotic relationship with a child-sponsorship charity, Compassion International is the one to pursue.
Opener Jordan Feliz, resembling a Hispanic Johnny Depp with his flat-brimmed gaucho hat and long, curly hair, got a bit of time with FK&C, too, but he and his ensemble also put on a solid, five-song set himself. "Beloved," written for his infant daughter before her birth, likely pulled the audience's collective heartstrings near breaking point. His breakout hit, "The River," is at least as valuable, though, for proving that someone can manage a credible Maroon 5-ish groove without succumbing to Adam Levine's horndog skeeziness. Yay for Feliz on that.
Jamie Lee Rake