This year's annual Fall festival Autumn Blaze in East Rutherford, NJ simultaneously brought to town the Fall leg of TobyMac's Portable Sounds Tour. A late arrival on our part meant we had missed the whole of the tail gate festivities of Autumn Blaze that took place in the parking lot of the Continental Airlines Arena, as well as the beginning of the evening shows inside the stadium. When the doors had opened sometime after 4:30, we were still trying to make our way to the city, and then secure our accomodations for an unexpectedly long period of time after we arrived.
Staff from local radio station Star 99.1 emceed the event, which definitely had its mixed results, but frequent guest speakers - chaplains from teams like the Yankees, Jets, and NJ Nets - served as treats for the New Jersey/New York audience. When we finally got inside the arena, Fr. Stan Fortuna, a local musician from the Bronx, New York, was just beginning his half-hour set. He proved to be a quality performer, but Father Fortuna seemed a bit out of place at the festival - especially with Canadian hard rock band Thousand Foot Krutch following soon afterwards.
The Portable Sounds Tour is a diverse selection of music - something you can expect from a headlining artist like TobyMac. However, it does feel a bit strange for a seasoned act like Thousand Foot Krutch to open the trio of main acts and only play five songs and for only about twenty minutes. There was a great deal of space between the audience and the stage, and it seemed that it took the band a song or two to be able to really connect with the audience. The rock quartet opened with the title track from their latest project, The Flame In All Of Us, with frontman Trevor McNevan all donned in black and sporting a black hat. The slim set moved forward with "The Absolute" from their previous album, The Art Of Breaking, and the ballad "Breathe You In." One last new song, "What Do We Know" followed, which is a softer rock anthem for an audience that is probably only made up of a smaller number of TFK enthusiasts, but the song wasn't the best of the new tracks to pick. Thousand Foot Krutch then went out with a bang with their infectious "Rawkfist," sadly not performing any other highlights like "Move," "Falls Apart," or an array of other standout TFK songs.
Since this spot on The Portable Sounds Tour was part of Autumn Blaze, the Star 99.1 folks spoke between the opening sets, even inviting NJ Nets chaplain Willie Alfonso to address the audience before the second act. Resuming The Portable Sounds Tour, BarlowGirl was given about twice as long a set as TFK, opening with "Song For The Broken" from their latest release, How Can We Be Silent. The all-girl, all-sister pop/rock band is always a pleasant surprise live, offering an inspiring and energetic show. The threesome are quite gifted musically as well, with Alyssa Barlow often juggling the bass, vocals, and keys throughout the set's duration, while Lauren juggles drums and vocals, and Rebecca wields an electric guitar. "Let Go" was next, along with Lauren's candid invitation to the entire audience to join as part of the band, and sing along. "I Believe In Love" and the tender "I Need You To Love Me" followed, as well as the worshipful "I Give You My Heart." The audience's most enthusiastic response came to the sounds of what is most likely the trio's most recognizable hit, "Never Alone." Afterwards, Lauren stepped out from behind her drum set to share a word with the audience before remaining center stage to sing "Average Girl" with her sisters before returning to the kit for their set closer, the rocker "Million Voices."
While a stage change took place after the Barlows, Pastor Rob Gruver of Zarephath Christian Church delivered a warm message about what we value most in life and about how much Jesus treasures each one of us. While a lot of motivational speakers at conferences and festivals tend to just yell at their audience to arrest their attention, Gruver was considerably more soft spoken and possibly all the more effective with his delivery. Partway through his message, he stepped aside for an interpretive dance sketch to perform to the tune of Lifehouse's beautiful ballad "Everything." In the performance, a group of college-age students acted out the salvation message and Jesus' redemptive story before Gruver returned to give an altar call and introduce worship around 8:30pm. The worship segment was decent, lead by Raphael & Aly Gislio and Choir, and after a few songs, the group left the stage for the set change to finish before the introduction of the headlining act.
Around 9pm, hip hop veteran TobyMac and his Diverse City Band emerged with "Ignition," a cut from the tour's titular album release. Dressed in a sort of military uniform, McKeehan joined his über-talented entourage for what would turn out to be one of their strongest set lists to date, proceeding to play one strong selection after another, with "Catchafire" and "Boomin'" following suit. When the lights dimmed after the latter song, the recording of the interlude "No Signal" played, leading right into the live performance of "No Ordinary Love" with a triad of trumpets accompanying. "J-Train" immediately followed without a break, and Toby then introduced the next song, "Gone," by prefacing it with an encouraging word to the women of the audience to not take any disrespect from the men in their lives. "Irene" was the perfect choice to follow it, with another new one, "I'm For You" preceding a scripture reading from Toby. McKeehan shared with the audience about being in the light of Christ before inevitably playing a shortened, more stripped down rendition of the Charlie Peacock original that his previous venture, dc Talk, had also made popular. It seemed more appropriate for the song to be given this more truncated treatment, which allowed more time for Toby's own solo material instead. Signature TobyMac rockers like "Yours" (which was given a new feel) and "The Slam" were fantastic moments as well. Toby then took another moment to share about the love of Christ with his audience before launching into "Love Is In The House" and then the melodic "Atmosphere." "Lose Your Soul," the closer on Portable Sounds followed "Atmosphere" without a break, and the funky sounds of "Diverse City" were close behind. Shortly after it began, GabeReal halted the song to encourage the New Jersey crowd to give it their all in turn for the band's efforts. The song was also the perfect chance for the Diverse City Band to be introduced, and each one gave their own solo for what would be an especially fun live moment. To close their set, the TobyMac live show staple old school medley was their finale, as they once again mixed songs like "Play That Funky Music," "Rollercoaster," "Freak Out," "That's The Way," and "We Are Family," among others. With that, the band exited, but an encore was rather evident.
When Toby returned sporting a unique black hoodie with a glow-in-the-dark "Portable Sounds" logo on it, the band performed the album's debut single "Made To Love," followed by "Burn For You," and what surprisingly would be the grand finale (and quite grand it was), a frenetic performance of the smash dc Talk hit, "Jesus Freak." When the house lights turned on, another great night of solid live music had come to an end.
I wished we had spent more of the day experiencing what Autumn Blaze 07 had to offer, but we were especially thrilled to catch the Fall leg of the Portable Sounds Tour, which we had originally missed when it rolled through Pennsylvania during GMA Week this past Spring. The teaming of TFK, BarlowGirl, and TobyMac is a great mix of styles from three great performing acts, and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to experience this leg of the tour to check it out this Fall.-- John DiBiase, 10/17/07
Thousand Foot Krutch
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