Review: For KING & COUNTRY @ ICC Sydney

For KING & COUNTRY - image via Facebook
Grace has been singing as long as she can remember. She is passionate about the positive impact live music can have on community and championing artists. She is an avid animal lover, and hopes to one day own a French bulldog.

Sydney has proffered a mild evening to allow full enjoyment of the Vivid festivities surrounding the ICC, while inside hosts the return of Christian pop superstars for KING & COUNTRY.

'The Voice' 2023 winner Tarryn Stokes opens the evening (31 May) with her flawless, powerhouse vocals accompanied by a pianist who jives away as she tears through her impressive runs. Tarryn is gone far too soon.

The stage is strewn with a myriad of instruments, three sets of percussion are evident, two Moogs, five keyboards as well as a giant timpani and cymbals added at the front. An electric cello lies sneakily to the side. By all evidence, this is going to be a gargantuan show.

A Mexican wave breaks out in the audience who are bursting with excitement as golden Roman numerals on the screen count down to the band's entrance. The number one sends them into a frenzy as the stage suddenly darkens.

The blue lights spasm into the audience before turning white and continuing their mania. This is the coolest entrance to a show I've seen in a long time. "Hello Sydney," Joel, one half of the Smallbone brother duo, says deeply as the crowd lose their mind.

'Relate' starts the show with vigour as Joel demands: "Put those hands together!" "You don't know what it's like to be me, I don't know what it's like to be you," the brothers sing, their perfect harmonies blending into one of the most glorious sounds the world has known.

Single cymbal crashes hit the chorus as the brothers take it down for the ending, gesturing out to the audience inviting them in. The lights flash out as, other half, Luke commences 'Fix My Eyes' beating on a snare drum wrapped around him. The brothers are dressed with an edge of 1700s streetman, Joel donned in a leather vest.

The chorus hits in a kaleidoscope of colour as they sing, "take time for another". The bridge soothes under blue lights, before the violin and cello join at the front. "Eyes fixed on you," Joel cries out, lifting his mic stand to the roof. It is gloriously fun as every voice sings out the final words.

'Fight On, Fighter' starts with flashing triangles across the screen, before they blend to blue. What a show this is. Joel stands on a high-rise back of stage, armed with a drumstick. "Australia, you're so brave," he sings out before a percussive breakdown backed by tom hits beats out. "Let me hear you," Joel entices and the crowd erupts.

"Don't ever stop," the brothers sing facing each other. "You're gunna make it," Luke's falsetto moves you down to your bones. The crowd clap furiously as the band cut out unexpectedly, rejoining with force.

Whirling, ominous music rings through blackness cut by single blue lasers for 'Run Wild'. Joel utilises a megaphone for the first verse, theatrically throwing it offstage. It is a simmering number as his sultry voice calls out.

"It's time for a drum battle," he announces, holding a camera that he swings between the main drummer and Luke. A large trumpet joins the chorus as the brothers run across the stage. The most insane percussion sequence follows, five band members playing as white lights explode psychotically. There is only one word – wow!

"We can't tell you how good it is to be here," Luke shares, 'we were born here." "We got on the train the other day and our mum said 'I used to take this train'," Joel confirms before expressing his fondness, "we are bringing the whole kit and caboodle for you tonight."

The brothers introduce each band member with a plethora of adjectives in a heartwarming sequence, before announcing, "We're coming out to see ya!" as they leap off the stage and ascend the steps of the arena to the ecstatic joy of many small children as 'Fine Fine Life' begins.

They sing out various states and the crowd echo back until Joel sings "America!", where the crowd only offer an awkward laugh, before the unperturbed Joel leans back on his keytarist.

'Love Me Like I Am' starts sentimentally, the violin sweeping your emotions up into the air. "It doesn't matter what has been said to you, or lies spoken over you," Joel says. "You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are an image bearer of God. You are priceless," he expresses as eyes in the crowd well up with tears.

'Priceless' follows; "I see you dressed in white," the brothers sing, their harmonies perfect and moving. Chrome stars shine on the screen and the cello warms the air as the band allows the audience to sing, "oh, so priceless". The showmanship is next level.

For 'Pioneers', the kick thuds sparsely through blackness as beach visuals enter. "Would you welcome to the screen my wife Moriah," Joel says as her voice and image enters, soulful and emotive. Luke's wife appears for the second verse and chorus, her voice folky. "Let's be pioneers," the couple sing and it is simply beautiful as the violin carries you out, your heart laid bare.

"Gee whiz you look beautiful tonight," Joel says before thanking their behind the scenes crew and the venue staff. "You're one of the largest crowds of this tour guys. You were almost there," he teases.

"If you want weepy parents, bring them to a homecoming show in their original home town," he shares as the crowd laughs. He asks about crowd birthdays and wedding anniversaries and acknowledges some, ending with, "We believe we are Australians through and through so thank you for showing up for us".

He advises about the film they made of their parent's story in which he plays his father, "which I dubbed a very expensive therapy session," he jokes. A sneak peek follows, and the film looks special.

They follow with 'Unsung Hero', the song they wrote for the movie, an extra special moment considering their mother is present tonight. "You're strong like your father," the brothers sing out as the emotion in the room becomes overwhelming. There are actually two cellos which now intertwine with the violin. The song culminates so spectacularly you hope this performance is immortalised on YouTube for repeat watches. A singular moment in time.

'Burn The Ships' features the violinist front and centre as storm visuals splay across the screen. The brothers face one another; "don't you look back," Luke sings as the piano notes linger to end the song.

'Together' is a fun sing-along before the band take a break as Luke shares the story of their father, a concert promoter, who moved the whole family to Nashville and promptly lost his job. "We saw many of God's miracles and I want to tell you about a few." He recounts church members furnishing their entire house, neighbours giving them groceries and even one benefactor who gave them an entire car.

He shares their connection with charity Compassion International urging people to help children in the same position he once was. A long intermission ensues before the band return cracking in unexpectedly with crashing drums singing in unison, "Amen!" The brothers carry lanterns as they vocalise, "carry the light with you". It is wonderfully theatrical.

The string section moves into the middle of the crowd for 'It's Not Over Yet' as the whole band sans main drummer join. They remain there, covering Michael W Smith's 'Place In This World' as the arena fills with phone torchlights. This show has everything.

'Shoulders' is religious in the best way, a sense of holiness settling over the arena as arms lift to the sky. They return to the stage and you realise there hasn't been a lull the entire show, every song singable by the second chorus.

'The Proof Of Your Love' brings the energy high, climaxing with Joel jumping off a rise as he crashes two cymbals together. "I believe in the power of prayer," he says. "I believe in the power of something greater than ourselves and the power of unity. And I believe in the power of a song. It can change a heart." Joel somehow teleports to the back of the arena, where he tenderly sings, "hold on to me".

"Let's take a moment in the quiet," he suggests as peace sweeps the arena. "You are loved. You are so loved." It is a spiritual experience. 'God Only Knows' starts softly with Joel and piano flowing along rhythmically as the crowd unifies and cosmic visuals play across the screen. Dolly Parton appears on-screen to sing the final chorus before the song descends into EDM-style vocal chops and flashing lights.

I can't give away all their secrets so, to say the least, their song 'Joy' is insanely. . .joyous. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

The encore features a cover of 'The Voice' in front of a Harbour Bridge visual that makes you proud to be Australian. "Sydney is the voice!" Joel declares, throwing out a fist in unison with a final drum hit that triggers a massive curtain dropping down in front of the stage.

Luke's silhouette is projected onto it as he hits his snare drum. "Shall we play our drums for you Sydney?" Joel asks as they enter 'Drummer Boy'. "Merry Christmas," he jokes.

An epic percussion session flows, the timpani being absolutely thwacked with a giant white stick. The string players join at the front in a concert moment that will stay in my memory for eternity, and suddenly it is all over.

There are simply no words that remain to sum up what occurred here tonight, it has to be seen to be believed. The production level, the musicianship and the showmanship are world class. You leave forever changed.

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