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The DVD Experience (Fall 2008)

  • reviewed by Andree Farias and Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Jan
The DVD Experience (Fall 2008)

Seen any good concerts lately? Our latest round-up of the newest DVD releases in Christian music include three CD/DVD projects from best-selling bands, three companion videos to recent worship albums, a tween-oriented concert video, and a live performance from one of the best in Christian Latin music.

Brooklyn Tabernacle ChoirCasting Crowns
David Crowder BandGateway WorshipHillsong Live
NewsboyspureNRGJesús Adrián Romero

The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

I'll Say Yes (Integrity Music)

The Good: As with The Miracle of Hope, I'll Say Yes isn't merely a musical performance from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. It's a docu-concert that intersperses live selections with testimonials from church and choir members. The feature takes a little while to fully take off, but it's never boring—think of it as watching an episode of VH1's Behind the Music, Brooklyn Tab style. Multiple camera angles provide ample opportunity to join the choir and sway along to the music, which is easily some of their most congregational to date. Churchgoers aren't just sitting back and enjoying a presentation from the multicultural, cross-generational singers; they're engaged in the sing-along … for the most part.

The Bad: Choirmaster Carol Cymbala has said that the songs on I'll Say Yes are meant for corporate singing, but not all the songs deliver on that. Some are too intricate or performance-oriented, and as such, the congregants aren't always fully engaged—on more than one occasion, this concert feels like a concert spectacle rather than a worship experience. You'd hope a supercharged romp like "We Fill the Sanctuary" would be met with more enthusiasm, but the crowd seems more content to just sit in their seats and listen.

The Bottom Line: Despite the unresponsive audience/congregation, this DVD companion to I'll Say Yes is still an excellent primer to what it's like to worship alongside the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and the next best thing to actually having church there.
—Andree Farias

Casting Crowns

The Altar and the Door Live (Beach Street/Provident)

The Good: As Casting Crowns gains popularity with each album, their live shows have grown accordingly from large church (2004's Live from Atlanta) to mega-church (2006's Lifesong Live) and now their headlining arena tour. Recorded in Florida, February 2008, this is the band's biggest production yet, with top-notch staging, lighting, and video production. Beyond the eight-song CD, frontman Mark Hall gives a good homily about living our faith from Sunday into Monday (and the rest of the week). He's also featured in four brief teaching videos built around four songs—sort of like Rob Bell's Nooma videos, and he's pretty good at it. Fans will also find a music video for "Slow Fade," plus 13 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that downplays Hall to focus on the lives and views of the other band members.

The Bad: As big as Casting Crowns has become—each album a best-selling milestone—do we really need a concert recording for each tour? It's not as if this is a band that varies their live performances much from the studio albums. Also, how disappointing that these projects focus only on the new material rather than offering a complete live show—I'd kind of like to see "Praise You in This Storm" and "Who Am I" in the bigger venue with the better production and the huge, enthusiastic audience. Instead, this 50-minute set is one of the dullest I've seen on video, offering 6 tepid AC ballads bookended by 2 upbeat songs—again, varying little from the album other than a forced fiddle-guitar duet and a brief drum solo. The audience seems equally unenthused since most of them are seated during this video. For every passionate fan in the crowd with upraised hands, there's a tired-looking parent with an even more tired-looking child.

The Bottom Line: This is more a keepsake for dedicated fans of Casting Crowns than an exciting concert video from one of the biggest bands in Christian music today.
—Russ Breimeier

David Crowder Band

Remedy Club Tour Edition (sixsteps/Sparrow)

The Good: In the fall of 2007, David Crowder Band took their unique modern worship style to America's trendy rock clubs in support of their Remedy album. Pulling together footage from stops in NYC and Atlanta, this 90-minute video does an excellent job of presenting the show more or less in its entirety, featuring the expected highlights from the band's last three albums while preserving much of the humorous banter and audience interaction. The video production is first-rate, with terrific camera angles from both onstage and off. In addition to the accompanying CD with all the same songs, the DVD includes a 14-minute documentary that gives a nice intro Crowder and company, explaining how they got their start as a college ministry. But true music geeks will get a kick out of the extensive song-by-song explanations from all the band members, showing the gear and techniques they use. And then there's one of the coolest-yet-simplest ideas I've seen for a DVD concert: subtitles that include not only the song lyrics, but also the chords for guitarists/keyboardists to play along. How's that for interactive?

The Bad: A small gripe, but the lack of continuity in the venue and band attire makes it too obvious that you're not watching a single show. For example, at one point, Crowder introduces a song wearing one outfit, only to perform the song in another. Better planning and editing would have made this less a distraction.

The Bottom Line: David Crowder Band's first full concert video is a near-perfect documentation of their Remedy Tour with lots of cool extras, serving as a fun souvenir for fans while showing the uninitiated exactly what they're missing.

Gateway Worship

Wake Up the World (Integrity Music)

The Good: Armed with first-rate production values, concert-hall lighting, and a large troupe of worshippers, Gateway Worship asserts itself as the closest thing to the stateside version of Hillsong. Let us forget for a moment that they take after the Aussies a little too faithfully—the visual counterpart to Wake Up the World is a knockout worship concert, with the impact of its songs made all the greater by the worship and production team's commitment to excellence. The program unfolds seamlessly and in the same sequence as the original concert. Like clockwork, it's a barrage of one power rocker after another, with a healthy dose of stirring ballads as well. And as a bonus, a dramatic new version of "Revelation Song," Gateway's 2006 hit, makes for a finale of grand proportions. Special features include featurettes that go behind the scenes as well as behind the ministry, plus behind the songs audio commentaries from the songwriters.

The Bad: Gateway Worship sticks a bit too closely to the program, leaving no room for ministry in between songs or insight from the various worship leaders that make up the team. Separate song commentaries from the songwriters remedy that somewhat, but it would have been nice to include more. And did we mention how faithfully similar to Hillsong everything is?

The Bottom Line: Minute for minute, the first DVD release from Gateway Worship has everything in place with worshipful energy to spare, much like a certain mega-church from down under.
— Farias

Hillsong Live

This Is Our God (Hillsong/Integrity Music)

The Good: As hit-and-miss as some of the latest annual Hillsong discs have been, it's always a treat to watch how everything unfolded the night of the recording. Since 2005's God He Reigns, the live extravaganzas have become larger and more ambitious in scope, and This Is Our God is no exception. Perhaps the biggest departure this time is the absence of a choir and the cornucopia of worship leaders, musicians, and backup singers on stage—the wall of sound has always been huge anyway, so who's to say the choir was ever actually in the mix, or if they were there only for dramatic effect. Whatever the case, the show looks great, the stadium worshippers are just as lively and jumpy as ever, and there's a stunning "arena cam" that could almost magically traverses the expanse of the venue in seconds, providing a head-spinning aerial view of the concert.

The Bad: "Healer" is a great song, but the inspiration behind it is false. Hillsong is reportedly working on re-cutting the DVD to exclude the fabricated cancer testimony from Mike Guglielmucci. Until then, it's an enduring reminder of his deception. Aside from a single documentary, there are no other special features.

The Bottom Line: There's not much here in the way of surprises or fresh creative direction, but the DVD companion for This Is Our God is still a better-than-average entry from these leaders in the worship music community.
— Farias


Newsboys Live: Houston We Are Go (Kingsway Music/EMI)

The Good:Newsboys have long been one of the best live acts in Christian music, and they prove so again with this 80-minute performance recorded in Houston during the spring 2008 leg of the Go Tour. (Weirdly prophetic that Peter Furler would sing, "It's the song of the forgiven, drowning out the Texas rain" during "He Reigns" just months before the flooding.) Most all of the band's concert hallmarks are here: flashy lighting, video screens, smoke machines, confetti machines, a catwalk with a secondary stage, and of course, their spinning hydraulic lift for the drum kit. Furler remains a charismatic showman—funny, energetic, and a little evangelistic. Though it's strange to see this band down to a foursome, they gel beautifully throughout an often worshipful set of (mostly) new and (some) old. Bolstered by an enthusiastic audience, the Newsboys put on yet another fun show. However …

The Bad: You know something's up when this project's cover uses the same overused photo from the Go album cover, superimposed over a live concert shot. It looks cheap, and it reflects the second-rate quality of the video production, which gives this show the look of a 10-year-old amateur recording. The sound mix isn't much better, fairly tinny compared to the accompanying CD (the only true bonus feature here). The show itself is good, but certainly not groundbreaking, reminiscent of the band's worship tour from five years ago. Odd too that the band seems to mock their classic outlandish tours during an old medley that only offers snippets of hits like "Reality" and "Not Ashamed." Frankly, it reminded me of the better tours and concert videos from the band's glory days.

The Bottom Line: Though the band's performance and stage production is as good as you'd expect, the Newsboys have released much better video releases than this comparably sparse and cheap-looking CD/DVD combo.


Live & More (Fervent Records)

The Good: The pureNRG trio offers fun, wholesome music that could stand up to Camp Rock, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, or just about anything being produced for tween audiences by the Disney empire these days.

The Bad: "Live" is a relative term here. PureNRG members Carolyne, Jordan, and Caroline have got the moves, for sure—somewhat stilted and cheesy at times, but they've still got 'em. It's just a little too obvious that they're performing to tracks here, especially during the dance-heavy songs where singing is secondary. Close your eyes, and aside from a sporadic shout-out (like "C'mon" or "Here we go"), you're essentially listening to selections from the trio's first album—oddly enough, the group's second disc, Here We Go Again, was entirely snubbed. It doesn't help that these youngsters show little personality or spunk during the interview sections. The only semi-interesting part was when one of the girls quipped that Jordan has a hidden talent to "burp the ABCs." (And it might have been more interesting if he did.)

The Bottom Line: Based on this disappointing video, pureNRG still has a long way to go—rhythmically, energetically, and charismatically—before they compete with their tween pop forerunners in Jump5.
— Farias

Jesús Adrián Romero

Ayer Te Vi … Fue Más Claro Que La Luna (Vástago)

The Good:Jesús Adrián Romero keeps outdoing himself. Already in his third DVD release, the troubadour proves why he's not only one of the finest in Latin Christian music, but also Latin music as a whole. Recorded before 12,000 concertgoers at The Forum in L.A., the audiovisual version of 2007's striking Ayer Te Vi is front-row evidence that the singer/songwriter cares about his art. He spares no expense in recreating the finesse of his last two albums, bringing along with him a taut six-piece band, a full string section, and guests that include Alex Campos, Marcela Gándara, and Latin-pop maestro Kiko Cibrián. Thoughtful interludes and sermonettes serve as apt transitions for the show, an understated gala where music, ministry, and worship converge to create one of the most poignant live spectacles en español in recent memory. (And don't let the language barrier intimidate you. The DVD offers subtitles for its full duration.)

The Bad: It's not a knock so much as an observation: the congregational closer "Tú Estás Aquí" is a Romero throwback, for sure, but it's too simplistic and repetitive compared to the classier, more sophisticated repertoire elsewhere—it has nothing on the much superior material that precedes it.

The Bottom Line: You can't get more elegant than Ayer Te Vi, a rich concert experience that everyone, not just Latinos, can savor.
— Farias

For previous editions of The DVD Experience, please visit our archives.

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