Powell, Third Day Deliver Knockout Rock Show

November 21, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
Communications Staff
Photos by Tim Koors

Is there a better front man in Christian rock music than Mac Powell of Third Day?

First, there’s the look. With his shoulder-length brown hair, full beard, flannel shirt, jeans and boots, this might be what Jesus would look like if He were in a band.

Then, there’s the style. Powell’s engaging manner and sense of humor make him seem much more next-door neighbor than star. Watching him work, you get the impression that he’s comfortable being himself anywhere.

Finally, there’s the voice, a rich baritone capable of soaring or growling in the best Southern-rock tradition. Comparisons of Third Day’s sound to that of Lynyrd Skynyrd aren’t far from the mark, and they’re given weight by Powell’s pipes, which call to mind the distinctive instrument of the late Ronnie Van Zant.

Third Day and Powell have been making music for going on 20 years now, but it’s hard to imagine band and lead singer sounding any better than they did on Sunday night at GCU Arena. A 95-minute show packed with 17 songs and two encores showed that there’s still plenty left in the tank for the four-time Grammy Award winners from Atlanta.

A couple of factors may have kicked this particular performance into a higher gear. Third Day is wrapping up a leg of its “Move” tour. (Although Powell said this was the final show, the band’s website indicates at least two more dates in early December.) And GCU is somewhat of a “home crowd” for Third Day, in light of the University’s sponsorship of the tour.

The latter aspect proved especially entertaining, as lead guitarist Mark Lee and bass player Tai Anderson — both online GCU students — donned purple Canyon baseball jerseys and often flashed the “’Lopes Up” sign, to the delight of those in the house. Images from the band’s visit to campus earlier in the year also were put up on the Arena’s video boards.

Powell referred to his side man as “Dr. Mark Lee” and spoke admiringly of his band mates’ ability to tackle class assignments from the road.

“It’s so inspiring to see them going back to school to finish their degrees,” Powell told the audience. “On the bus, David (drummer David Carr) and I are going, ‘Uh, what’s on TV next?’”

Aided capably by touring musicians Scotty Wilbanks (keyboards) and Jason Hoard (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Third Day ripped through old favorites and new material with a minimum of commentary, letting the considerable strength of its song catalog do the talking. This was a rock show through and through, and the band’s chemistry — honed over years of playing together — was exceptional.

A hard-charging rendition of “Revelation,” with fiery solos by Lee and Wilbanks, was enhanced by a unique mosaic backdrop printed with a number of Third Day song titles. The ever-changing backdrop was used to maximum effect throughout the show, creating just the right visual punctuation. On “God of Wonders,” which has been covered by every Sunday-morning praise band this side of Atlanta, the backdrop lit up like the starry night sky.

A three-song mini-set at a small, square stage in the middle of the crowd also was a highlight, as was the all-out jam that finished off “Gone,” the first of the encores.

A word about Lee. He’s not a flashy lead guitarist, nor does he resemble one in appearance, but the guy can seriously play. When he props his foot on one of the monitors and leans into a solo, even a casual fan becomes transfixed. With Powell and Lee anchoring this band from the start, its roots are deep and its sound is unmatched in Christian music.

Trevor Morgan and Tenth Avenue North supplied solid opening sets. Morgan, who sounds eerily like a young Bruce Springsteen, is one to keep an eye on. He joined Third Day in the middle of its set for one of his own songs, “Jesus Rides the Subway,” and the full-band treatment was terrific.

Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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