By: Kevin Rolfe
The first time I ever heard NEEDTOBREATHE was from a YouTube video of them performing one of my favorite Christmas songs “Go Tell it On the Mountain”. I absolutely loved that version and I watched that video dozens of times over the Holiday Season. So when I saw a few months back that they would be playing Utah I knew I wanted to cover their concert. I just had a good feeling that I’d be entertained by their live show. I had never even heard any of their original music. When I googled the band to get a little background I saw a lot coming up about NEEDTOBREATHE being a “Christian Rock” band or articles written about “Are they or aren’t they Christian Rock”. Nothing against Christian Rock but it comes with the stigma that “It’s not really rock”, or it is watered down because of its subject matter. Whether that’s true or not is a debate for another day. I only wondered what type of concert I would be going to. Would it be a more traditional concert like the ones I’m used to going to? Or would it be a concert with a lot of preachin’ both in the music and the spoken word? I did see an article in Rolling Stone where NEEDTOBREATHE stated that they don’t put labels on their music and because it can be limiting. They feared that they had been passed over by people who may have enjoyed their music because of being labeled a Christian Rock band. So I told myself before going that I would be open-minded to whatever I was going to see and make my decision after the concert was over.
I’m fully aware that I’m late to the game on NEEDTOBREATHE. I mean they have three top ten charting albums. How have I not known about these guys? Upon continuing my research I listened to some of their music. I try not to listen to too much of a band that I’m unfamiliar with because I know I’ll never learn enough in time to know the songs at the show and I like going in with an open mind. I just wanted to get a taste of what they sound like. I enjoyed a few of the songs, but when I realized this was an acoustic concert, I wanted to hear something in that vein. So I listened to their 2018 released Acoustic Live, Vol. 1 and I was hooked!
If you have never seen a concert at the Eccles Theater you really need to do yourself a favor and make it happen. This venue is quickly climbing my list of favorite venues in Utah. Even if you’ve seen a musical at Eccles Theater, get yourself there for a concert. The theater is visually stunning, and the sound inside is excellent. This was the perfect venue for NEEDTOBREATHE to play. Just looking around I could see the excitement and devotion on the faces of those around me. Even as I moved around the theater to take pictures I could see people singing along with great big grins on their faces. This crowd was so nice! When I had to step in and get a picture they’d encourage me to get a shot right in front of them, telling me it was the best view in the house.
NEEDTOBREATHE opened with “Forever on Your Side”. I knew immediately that I was going to like this concert. The Americana/ Folk Rock/ American Roots sound their acoustic show produces is right up my alley. I love that style. I could tell right away that a difficult decision was going to have to be made by the crowd on if they were going to remain sitting, or if they were going to get up on their feet. Some were up, some remained in their chairs. But lead singer Bear Rinehart told the crowd they could stand or sit he was fine with both. Basically telling the crowd to just be cool with whatever each person decides to do.
Speaking of Bear Rinehart, how does someone sing like that?! Song after song I was totally blown away by his range, his passion, his soulfulness and the grittiness of his voice. He continuously impressed me with what he was doing with those pipes. It seems like he feels every word he’s singing. I honestly can’t get over his performance. When I least expected it his gravely soulful voice would transition into this high crystal clear falsetto. I mean, what does someone think when they’re like “I’m going to start singing!” and this voice comes out? No lessons or formal training can produce a voice like that. It’s a real gift.
As the show went along more and more people got out of their seats. The way these boys played and the style of this music seemed to prevent people from remaining seated. It was impossible for me to remain seated when they performed “State I’m in”.
During the intermission, I started chatting with the woman next to me. She was in Utah on a business trip. She and a colleague were looking for something to do and she saw that NEEDTOBREATHE were in town. This woman had recently seen the band in Maine and knew that this was what they needed to do. I had noticed her excitement during the first half of the show which is why I started talking to her. I wanted her opinion on the show. The fact that she had just seen them was a bonus because I was able to get her take on how this concert was compared to the one in Maine. She told me that the first half was more or less very similar to the show in Maine. I asked her about the crowd. I wondered if as many people stood up at the Maine show. She told me this crowd blew the Maine crowd away. She said that no one stood up at the Maine show. She was amazed to see the majority of the fans in Salt Lake standing. Of course, I beamed with pride when she said that. As I’ve stated many times, I think Utah crowds are among the best in the country. It was nice to get a little confirmation on that sentiment.
There were times in the second half where this woman from Maine seemed ready to tell me when something was about to happen but she bit her tongue so I could experience it for myself. She leaned over at the end of “No Excuses” where she started to tell me something. I asked if I had missed something. She told me she didn’t want to spoil it for me just in case. Mere seconds after she said that, the band broke out into a moving version of “House of the Rising Sun”. I asked if this was what she was going to tell me. She nodded yes. I’m glad she didn’t spoil it. It was a cool and unexpected surprise.
One of my favorite parts of the show were the stories that Bear told. He told stories of the early days of the band driving around in an old van similar to the one that used to be on the A-Team. He told stories of their home state of South Carolina and being raised father that was a pastor. He told us that he believed he was of the first generation that finally understood that “Jesus wasn’t white”. The highlight of his stories was when he recounted performing on Conan Halloween night. They were performing “Tennessee Girl” so they thought it would be fun to dress up as famous women in music from Tennessee. He went into every detail. I’d say the story took about ten minutes. In a concert setting where the feeling can be, “Less talk, more Rock.” everyone was on the edge of their seat listening to this story. I’m not going to spoil the details. You need to hear Bear Rinehart tell it. But it was a funny tale and the way he spun that yarn was concert magic. That only enhanced “Tennessee Girl” which is already a crowd favorite.
Two of my favorite things happened when the band returned for their encore. Multi-instrumentalist, back up singer, vocalist, and brother to Bear, Bo Rinehart did a solo acoustic version of The Killers song “Human”. I absolutely loved it. I’m a huge fan of The Killers and did not see this cover coming. It was a different take, but it totally worked and sounded fantastic. Bo’s voice is nothing to balk at. I noticed throughout the show how amazing his harmonies were. And it’s not to say Bear’s voice is better, it’s just different and it’s the voice that leads this band, but Bo’s voice is easily good enough to front a band. So the fact that he’s singing backup just strengthens this group even more.
My second favorite was when the entire band stepped up to the very front of the stage, walked past all the microphones, unplugged from any amps and performed “Brother” totally acoustic. The song sounded amazing like this. And it’s a tribute to the acoustics of the Eccles Theater because without mics, the voices and guitars rang through the venue. The woman from Maine mentioned that they had done this with a different song at the last show she went to, but she was really hoping they would do this song in this way.
It’s amazing that after all the music I listen to and all the concerts I’ve seen, I can still find a new artist to become a fan of. NEEDTOBREATHE totally won me over. Their Acoustic Tour was the perfect way for me to see them. I don’t think I’ll be missing them the next time they come by!