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Welcome to the Worship Circus

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Aug
Welcome to the Worship Circus
Sounds like … worshipful lyrics combine with rock and roll, both classic (David Bowie, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Kinks) and modern (The Violet Burning, All Star United, The Cure, Skillet)At a Glance … though there's room for artistic improvement, Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus unveils an interesting and fun approach to worshipping the Lord.

Credit Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus for coming up with one of the best and most original band names. But think again if you assume this quartet is trying to be anything less than reverent in praising God. Gabriel Wilson is the band's founder, frontman, lead singer, and guitarist, not to mention the only member whose band name appears on his birth certificate. He, his wife "Blurr" (keyboards, "low-end"), and "Zurn" (drums) met as members of the worship team at Evangel Christian Fellowship in Longview, Washington. They were eventually joined in 1999 by "Solo," whose nickname is obvious when you hear his lead guitar skills. After a few gigs together, the foursome took a month-long mission trip to Kenya, where they discerned that God was calling them to do worship music. The band name reflects a "tent revival" mentality and the spectrum of emotions displayed by those who got saved through their church's worship experiences: laughing, crying, and rejoicing. After a trio of independent projects, most notably 2001's Big Star Logistics, the band signed with Integrity's youth-oriented Vertical Music label to release their national debut, Welcome to the Worship Circus.

If you've been a fan of the band since Big Star Logistics, you should know that seven of the songs from that album have been re-recorded for the new album, as well as six brand-new songs. Playing off of their intriguing name, the band is a veritable variety show of rock and roll, both classic and modern. Many of the songs, such as "Ride" and "Come on Get Down," have a strong British-rock influence along the lines of The Kinks, T. Rex, All Star United, The Elms, and Oasis. The 90-second rocker "Telephone" in particular sounds like The Kinks, with a very classic-sounding guitar riff. I also can't help but compare the band to Skillet, though that may be saying more about the band's glam-metal wardrobe than their sound.

Though the band has no bass guitar player, Blurr's keyboard bass is often a fine substitute, even sounding a bit like Paul McCartney's famed Hofner bass on "Party Song." Her keyboards on "Come to the Father" help lend a vintage David Bowie sound a la "Changes" or "Heroes." Both Gabriel and Solo pull some familiar guitar sounds from their bag of tricks, such as on the beginning of "Blood of Jesus," which sounds much like The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride." They also capture the Pink Floyd atmosphere (think "Sorrow" or "Another Brick in the Wall") in "The Undiscovered." Even Zurn's drum kit has a classic '70s rock sound, though the band certainly doesn't sound as if they're lost in the '60s and '70s throughout the album. The driving rocker "Loving You" has a decidedly modern sound, much like The Cure's "Love Song," and the melodic "Your Crown" draws natural comparisons to The Violet Burning. The artsy sounding "Glorify the Son" is probably my favorite example of the band's blend of classic and modern, mixing the art-rock sound of David Bowie and Pink Floyd with the melodic modern worship songwriting of Delirious's best ballads.

While the band was visiting our offices, I asked Gabriel how quickly people pick up the songs during their worship concerts. Because of some atypical melodies, not all of the songs are easy to learn, and Gabriel admitted that it depends on the song. "Glorify the Son" is as effective as any Delirious ballad, conveying all that Jesus accomplished on the cross. "Your Crown" also works well with its simple melody and memorable chorus. Other songs rely on simple lyrical content to make singing along easier. The beautiful closing anthem, "We Sing Glory," restricts the verses to a single line ("We sing glory to the name of our God" or "Salvation belongs to our God") and leads into an even simpler chorus of "Hallelujah." Other songs have enough of a hook that anyone will be able to sing along. For example, "Party Song" isn't a song that's easy to sing along with right away, but there's a building "Alleluia," a chorus of "ooo-wee-ooo"s, and a lot of cheering designed to allow anyone to join in the worship experience. The simplistic "Blood of Jesus" is as easy to sing along with as a youth camp song, and the chorus of "Ba da da"s is readily singable.

Welcome to the Worship Circus works well in many ways, and at the same time I found it a little lacking. It's certainly a rock album, but there are times during the album it doesn't seem to rock enough. The combination of the ethereal "Open the Gates" and the moody "The Undiscovered" is meant to recall Pink Floyd at their most atmospheric, but Worship Circus fails to do anything more than capture the mood. Aside from a fine guitar solo in the middle of the song, there's little in the way of drum fills, arrangement, and song development. "We Sing Glory" does a better job of building, but it ends just as it gets going with a chorus of "Who's the king above all other kings?" I'm sure it goes longer than four-and-a-half minutes in concert. Worship Circus is creative because of their unorthodox approach to worship, but at the same time the sound is somewhat familiar. And as worshipful as this band is, I have a hard time picturing other church worship teams across the country adding the songs to their repertoire.

Still, Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus scores points for doing something different with worship. There's a sense this band is on to something, much like Delirious when they began ten years ago. It's good to note that Delirious wasn't an overnight success either; they slowly gained experience and respect for their unique and powerful worship concerts. Those who've seen Rock 'n' Roll Worship Circus in concert have likened them to the popular aforementioned British worship band, citing the event as a "worship experience" as opposed to a mere concert. Check out Welcome to the Worship Circus for a somewhat fresh and fun approach to worship music, and then keep your eye on this band. They're certain to impact the worshipping body of Christ as they continue to grow in artistry, in popularity, and in the Spirit.