Review: Winter Jam 2011 at Rupp Arena

Newsboys' lead singer Michael Tait spent a lot of time on the catwalk when Winter Jam visited Rupp Arena March 12, 2011. LexGo.com photos by Rich Copley.

Newsboys' frontman Michael Tait spent a lot of time on the catwalk, close to the audience, when Winter Jam visited Rupp Arena March 12, 2011. LexGo.com photos by Rich Copley.

Newsboys may be the comeback story of Christian rock.

I purposely did not qualify that statement with “of the year” or “of the decade.” Christian pop has never been a genre that completely let faded heroes of the past back into the limelight, and just three years ago, Newsboys looked like it was essentially done.

Francesca Battistelli performs "This is the Stuff" on ukulele with two members of her band.

Francesca Battistelli performs "This is the Stuff" on ukulele with two members of her band.

Back then, it would have been hard to belive Newsboys would be headlining the most successful Winter Jam tour ever, as of last night in Rupp Arena, and they’d be putting on a killer show. But Saturday night, before a crowd of 16,431 paying customers, the resurgent quartet showed off the perfect formula for rebirth.

The key ingredient is new frontman Michael Tait. Here in Central Kentucky, we’ve been able to watch him grow into this role a bit as Newsboys played the Lexington area three times in the last year. But last night, he was perfectly at ease exhorting the crowd, playing every part of the stage and drawing from two iconic bands’ catalogs of hits.

That’s part two of the formula: With Tait, Newsboys credibly performs its own catalog and that of his former band, dc talk. That would make this a greatest hits act if not for the third ingredient, some terrific new material like the title track from the new chart-topper, Born Again. It gives Newsboys a cross-generational appeal they might not have otherwise had.

Most important is in this new era, Newsboys feel sincere and confident. Far from the act that seemed to be trying to figure out what slot it fit in – rock, pop, disco, worship, court jesters – the air of the band now is, this is Newsboys, take it or leave it.

Even at the end of a long evening of music, the Rupp crowd was ready to take it. The 16,431 person audience that paid $10 for the 10 band show pushed the overall tour past its highest attendance ever, a tour official said, though he could not provide the previous record attendance or new total last night. The annual tour, which has been going on since 1995, has 14 cities left on its 47 date run.

Overall, it was a good evening of music with acts such as the David Crowder Band, which ended its set with a bluegrass jam on I Saw the Light, and Francesca Battistelli, who provided a lively set including a ukulele trio on This is the Stuff.

The mood of the show did fall a bit mellow into the evening, making the inexpicable placement of Red at the front of the evening – when many of us were still outside the arena – all the more annoying. Their injection of energy would have been welcome somewhere around the intermission. Its absence made the Newsboys powerful performance all the more invigorating.

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