Not everyone can play an arena. Regular attendees at Rupp Arena concerts have certainly sat through performances by opening acts, sometimes even headliners who were not ready for a cavernous performance space — who it seemed would be more comfy playing for a few hundred people, rather than several thousand.
And it has happened at Winter Jam, the Christian rock tour that visited Rupp for the fifth consecutive year, Saturday night.
But this year, the tour delivered an arena-ready show from the top to the bottom of the bill. Even rootsy Dara Maclean made a complete connection with her voice and the support of a guitarist and cellist, seemingly hung out on a stage in the middle of the arena, ready to be swallowed up by the space.
Winter Jam 2012 was headlined by Christian rock arena masters Skillet, which brought its full arsenal of pyrotechnic, hydraulic gear for the show, including a new lift for drummer Jen Ledger’s kit. Christian rock fans who attend the Ichthus Festival regularly are abundantly familiar with Skillet’s show, which leans almost exclusively on songs from its last two albums, Awake (2009) and Comatose (2006).
Regardless of how often you have seen the show, which is somewhat tweaked every time, it is still a sight to behold, and charismatic frontman John Cooper gets incredible support from the frenetic band of multi-instrumentalist Korey Cooper (his wife), guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer Jen Ledger. You watch them perform and it’s no wonder they’re all so thin.
But they had some energetic competition from old man Peter Furler, 45, the former Newsboys frontman who was back on the Winter Jam tour as a solo act for the first time. Striking out on his own seems to have reinvigorated the Aussie Christian rock icon who swung through a set of his new music including I’m Free and Newsboys classics such as Entertaining Angels with his all-star pick-up band of fellow-former Newsboy Phil Joel on bass, Superchick guitarist Dave Ghazarian and drummer Jeff Irizarry. With none of Skillets rides or explosives, the quartet brought a garage-rock feel to their set, albeit on an arena level.
Kari Jobe looked in no way ready for the big house of Rupp when she stepped onto the stage, but soon the pixie-esque solo artist was creating the most ethereal moment of the evening with Revelation Song, as she repeated the final lyrics and the audience sang them back to her while guitarist Hank Bentley backed it with a distorted echo.
That’s how you fill an arena.
In Lexington, we probably have benefited from getting Winter Jam two-and-a-half months into the tour, when the artists have had plenty of time to warm up on arenas around the nation. The tour has succeeded in large part because of its $10 admission fee that makes it a youth-group leader’s dream to bring kids too. But it never hurts when the artists — rounded out Saturday night by Group 1 Crew, Building 429 and Sanctus Real — are strong enough that the audience feels it got much more than it’s money’s worth.
That doesn’t always happen in arena rock, these days.