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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Worship (VHS/DVD)

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Aug
Worship (VHS/DVD)
Sounds like … the king of contemporary Christian music switches back and forth from guitar strumming to piano playing to back up for his soothing vocals in this live worship setting. At a Glance … Smith and his backing band perform worship covers and originals (from the gold selling Worship CD and the forthcoming sequel disc) in front of over 15,000 worshippers at a Canadian youth conference.

When Michael W. Smith originally decided to record a CD of live praise music last year, he made it clear it wasn't to capitalize on the current craze or to rack up instant album sales. Instead, Smith pointed out that a project filled with the worship treasures closest to his heart was something he always wanted to release. There's no question his attitude is genuine on his live Worship CD, as most of the tracks draw listeners into a spiritual mindset. Granted, some fans were disappointed to hear mostly cover songs in the collection rather than an equal balance of self-penned Smith gems, but they nonetheless helped Worship sell over 500,000 copies in just 14 weeks.

Since its September 11, 2001 street date, the disc has helped calm the fears of a nation struck down by tragedy, as well as served as a Gospel platform outside the Christian subculture. As lifelong and new believers alike embraced the project, Smith took the praise songs on the road to re-create the majesty found during the original live session. Out of those dates, the YC 2002 multi-denominational youth conference (held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) was a definite highlight, drawing together young people from all over the region, regardless of denominational backgrounds. That event is the setting for Michael's new Worship video project, available on DVD and VHS, drawing on material from both the best-selling CD and the upcoming sequel due for release this fall.

Those who may have been let down by the CD will be pleased to know Smith and his band truly bring this batch of songs to life with their compelling stage presence. Matching the music with the visuals adds an entire new dimension to the worship experience, starting with a medley of Rich Mullins' legendary "Step By Step" and the new Smitty tune "Forever We Will Sing." The combination is a powerful introduction to the evening of praise, as Smith sits behind the microphone with a guitar in hand and a full band of multi-instrumentalists around him. Together, they lead the gathering through the glorious medley as several cameras frame the band and pan over the vast crowd. The up-tempo spirit and fast-paced camera work continue during "Open the Eyes of My Heart," and although the mood soon turns serene for piano-heavy renderings of "Draw Me Close" (culled from the Exodus worship project) and the classic "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus," the reverence remains. Amidst that set of slower material are Worship's radio single "Above All," the anthemic "Breathe" (written by Vineyard worship leader/independent artist Marie Barnett), and the new addition of "Lord I Give You My Heart."

Smith offers glimpses of material from his forthcoming Worship CD sequel, including "Your Renown," "Prince of Peace," and "Lord I Give You My Heart." Also new to the live set are covers of Mullins' "I See You" and U2's "40." Fans already are familiar with Smith's studio version of "I See You" (also from the Exodus project), and the live setting only amplifies the tune's majesty. However, Smith's rendition of "40" is somewhat awkward, considering it was originally sung by rock-and-roll heavyweight Bono. Although the DVD/VHS version has an electric guitar streaming through the entire composition, Smith's vocals seem sheepish and timid compared to Bono's commanding presence. Thankfully, Smith sticks within his range during two of the concert's spine-tingling sing-a-longs "Awesome God" (the last of three Mullins tunes) and Smith's now classic worship song, "Agnus Dei."

Additional elements that enhance the Worship experience include the meticulous framing of each shot and the superb sound quality of the performance from start to finish. Several camera angles provide intimate glimpses of each performer on stage, along with a depiction of the audience's massive size. The production of the program is first-rate, utilizing only the best in technology. Both the VHS and DVD formats were recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, ensuring an accurate replication of the vocals and instruments from that night. Besides all of the concert performances, the DVD provides behind-the-scenes footage that will interest die-hard fans and give exciting insight to new Smitty followers. In addition to a "making of" segment chronicling how the event was put together, the Worship DVD features interview footage with Smith, his band, and the road crew, as well footage of the recording engineers putting finishing touches on the project.

Regardless of the viewing format, Worship sets the quality standard for Christian concert recordings, and it serves as documentation of a night when Smith led thousands with his own praise songs as well as interpretations of the ones that have consistently moved the masses. To see Smith and the band put the focus entirely on the Lord is quite inspiring. Even more moving is the fact that for one evening in Canada over 15,000 youth came together, regardless of color or denominational creed, to praise God as the Body of Christ. That's perhaps the most rewarding element of the Worship VHS/DVD, something worth raising hands in praise over during each and every viewing.

Michael W. Smith returns to the praise-focused touring circuit this fall along with Third Day on the "Come Together and Worship" tour, slated to hit 16 cities through November.