It's kind of tough to sum up a thirty-three year career in a review for a farewell live project. And on top of that, when this career is none other than that of Petra, the founding fathers of Christian rock as we know it, it can make it all the tougher. Despite their extraordinary popularity years ago, recent years have been less than kind as the band has, in many ways, slipped into a sense of obscurity. In this, many have failed to realize the importance that this band has in the Christian music industry. Those who may scoff at the aging arena rockers don't understand that the achievements of this band have made it possible for their favorite current bands to even exist. So it may be easy for some to pick up Petra's final official project, a live album recorded on their last tour entitled Farewell, and write it off entirely. But this project marks the sad end of something truly remarkable.
Although the legendary band is still touring their final dates, Farewell was recorded on a special night in Nashville during the tour to give the fans one final treat before they hang up their instruments forever. The live project sounds rather solid for such a quickly produced and released recording (the concert took place on October 4 and the album was released on November 22). While the vocal quality translated through the mics can sound a little fuzzy or generally low in quality on occasion (specifically during Volz' set), as a whole they are crisp and clear. Musically, Farewell is rich and sonically well-recorded. With Petra's calibur in mind, it's crucial for such a project to be done right, and the sound is almost as good as it gets.
The song list is a pretty healthy mix, as well. Opening with "All About Who You Know" from their final studio project, 2003's Jekyll & Hyde, Petra starts off on a fresh note. With over thirty years of music under their belts and a barrage of hits to their name, it's tough to squeeze everything that really should be touched upon into an hour-long set. For this, the band makes good use of a pair of medleys that they pull off quite beautifully, with the first being a rock medley (featuring "Sight Unseen," "It Is Finished," "Think Twice," "I Am On The Rock," "Midnight Oil," "Mine Field," and "This Means War") and the second being a monumental acoustic set featuring former lead vocalist Greg X. Volz. In fact, it's the medleys that really make this album special, as they cover so much history in such short time, and see the return of such a key player in the band's history as Volz.
The project isn't without its minor flaws, however. The biggest, of course, is a lack of visual accompaniment for the event. Although it's not the final show from the band, it would still be great to have been able to place a sight with the audio. A DVD is apparently planned for 2006, so hopefully that will help fill in the gaps. I would have liked to have witnessed the reunions and special guests, as well as the crowd's reactions (especially since they sound so lively on the audio CD). Former keyboardist John Lawry's solo towards the close of the album is a strange highlight that serves as a throwback to the glory days of 80's keys-flavored rock. For late blooming Petra listeners like myself, his distorted "Jesus Loves You" sample may seem bizarre, if not out of place, but longtime Petheads will gleam at Lawry's nostalgic offering. On the other hand, original member, fifty-six-year-old Bob Hartman provides a short but sweet guitar solo a song later that feels very much familiar to any portion of Petra history fans have followed.
Farewell ends triumphantly with "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered," and by the time fifty-five- year-old frontman John Schlitt shouts, "Thank you for thirty three fantastic years!" as the song fades out, it's hard to believe Petra is finished. Even if you were once a fan of Petra but your tastes in music have changed as mine have, there's something about Farewell and its nostalgia that is worthy of appreciation. Petra brought a lot to Christian music as we know it. And for that I say thank you, Petra, for thirty three fantastic years.- Review date: 12/2/05, written by John DiBiase
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