As promised, here is my review of Signature Sound’s March 5th concert in Grand Rapids, MI. Below is a slideshow of images from beginning to end of the concert. Feel free to browse through, pick out your favorites, and tell me about them!
The show took a little while to get started, but they had a special deal going at the beginning where they put together Stand By Me Live CD/DVD, Great Love, self-titled, and the new George Younce project all for just $20. They brought out boxes of the merchandise and asked folks to raise their hands if they wanted in on the deal. I own or have heard all of those projects, and yet I still just about raised my hand. However, I didn’t end up taking the deal, but I was kicking myself because I had just bought a copy of the new Younce project for $15 (look for a review of that later). If I had waited, I could have had that project plus extra copies of other projects (including some rare ones) to give away to friends…for only five more dollars. Later I was kicking myself even more when I remembered that I had actually been planning to buy another copy of George’s project to give away anyway. But I don’t think about it anymore. Honest I don’t…I’m trying not to anyway, even if it does haunt my sleep. Anyway, it was good to see them still selling copies of those old projects that have been put in the vault. However, I wish they would re-release them officially. I told a lady to hang onto her copy of Stand By Me Live, because it’s not being made anymore. A “classics” review of that project is on the agenda for this blog sometime in the future.
Eventually the lights went down, and they came out singing “My Heart Is a Chapel.” I thought they might open with this one, and I was right. Cute, upbeat way to get the night going. I immediately turned on my camera and began taking shots. The one downside of that was that it distracted my attention from the song, but I tried to put it down whenever I really wanted to give a song my full attention. Eventually I was forced to turn it off for longer periods because my brand new, fresh batteries inexplicably began running low. It started not even letting me take pictures unless I waited for a while, which meant that I missed some key moments. I haven’t forgiven that camera yet. But anyway, moving on…
“Boundless Love” — Boomboom CLAP, Boomboom, CLAP. This one “rocked” the house. It’s one thing to watch this on a DVD, another to experience it live and be one of the people clapping along. I could actually FEEL Ian Owens’ bass slide at the end. They always perform this wonderfully, and they leave me in admiration of their ability to handle the pure physical work this number requires. How they manage to keep singing this at the top of their lungs (while staying on pitch) and move around the stage like they do is really something to behold. And Ernie’s tenor singing is something else. He’s always had a gift for singing high notes while still keeping that full-bodied sound. He may not be able to scream out As above high C, but that suits me fine.
“Life Will Be Sweeter” — They obviously enjoy doing this one. They take their time with the harmonies, and they keep it very, very smooth. New guitar player Kelly Vaughn’s laid-back solo in the middle was a pleasure to listen to. He’s a great addition to the group—of course, I’ve thought for a while that they should add a guitarist to the band. Maybe Ernie took my advice. (Then again, maybe he came up with the idea all by himself…) Hey, maybe now that they have Kelly they can start staging “Walk Over God’s Heaven!”
At this point they launched directly into a new song called “Here We Are Again.” This was very interesting, because I found a Youtube video a while back where they were singing another, similar new song called “Thankful.” (It’s poor quality, but I can post it if anyone’s interested.) I think I prefer “Thankful,” but this one was pleasant, mellow, and hummable. The audience sang along for a couple more choruses.
“Changed By a Baby Boy”— Devin McGlamery indulged his inner Marshall Hall on this one. It was fun and make for great audience singalong. They showed some accompanying pictures of palm trees on the screens. I’m not sure how much the palm trees contributed, but they were there.
At this point Ernie Haase introduced the group members. He ran through some “short jokes” about Ian, then pulled out a roughly 7-year-old joke that he was so nervous on his first night his hands could thread a sewing machine. (I’m sure it was new to some people, but I was thinking “Man, I can’t believe he dug that one out…!”)
Ian Owens then sang the song he did for his audition with Signature Sound — an Imperials song called “I Believe.” There are other Imperials songs that I like better, but Ian sings it so beautifully I can’t resist. Wayne’s piano and Kelly’s guitar contributed a lot, and it built up to a stirring climax.
Ernie then offered Ian a high five. Ian had a little trouble reaching it, so Ernie offered him a low five instead. Then he told a new joke (SHOCKER) which I won’t give away, but I’ll just say that it involved texting, Bible verses, and a shower.
Ian shared some testimony, then picked the next song —“Step Into the Water.” This is one of my favorite songs off the Tribute project, and they did not disappoint. Although they used only a live band for virtually all their songs, they did use it together with a track for this one. I got one of my favorite shots of the night on Ernie and Doug Anderson’s duet (see slideshow). Ian appears to have been practicing the moves and was on cue with the beckoning motion at the end.
“Movin’ Up to Gloryland”— The band members delivered obligingly pitiful cameos on the “moo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoovin” part, and Ian stole the show at the end with a perfect falsetto. He sounded exactly like Ernie. Then it was the audience’s turn. On the final “Movin, movin, movin,” Ian was singing in his upper register, but he dropped down an octave when Ernie ordered him to “sing bass.” Then we had a special treat when they encored the chorus—Ernie sang bass! He did it convincingly enough that when I was running through the recorded concert afterwards, I thought it sounded a little odd but assumed it was still Ian, having forgotten that Ernie was taking it away at the moment. But then I heard my own voice saying, “Nice bass singing Ernie” and remembered, “Oh, that’s right.” Methinks they should do like some other quartets and start incorporating a song or two with Ian on tenor and Ernie on bass…
Next Ernie introduced their cover of Cathedrals sleeper hit “I Thirst” and said that it had hit #1 on the gospel charts (congrats, guys!) It was easily a highlight of the night. They sang it through, and then Ernie paused to talk about traveling from the lush, green British Isles to the desert of Arizona. He talked about how humbling it was to think that God spoke it all into existence, yet loved us enough to thirst for us. Ernie then began singing the chorus again, and Wayne and the others joined him. On the final note of the encore, he sang the harmony a full third higher than usual. It was a poignant and powerful moment!
Next they gathered around one microphone and sang “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” acapella with Wayne. (Ernie introduced Wayne by saying that he liked to hide behind the piano and felt uncomfortable in front of people, so Ernie was stalling to give him a hard time. Hehe.) I still maintain that this new arrangement surpasses the original. I also noticed (for the first time I think), that Doug’s harmony part is stacked above Devin’s. That’s logical since Doug obviously has the higher voice, even though officially Devin is the lead and he’s the baritone. In a way, this is following in Cathedrals tradition, since Glen Payne was also a baritone voice in a lead singer’s body.
As on the Tribute DVD, they then moved into “Sinner Saved By Grace.” Again, the band was playing, but the orchestrated track was playing in the background. Wayne treated us to some subtle jazz piano at the beginning that I only picked up listening back through the recording—he’s the master of getting it exactly right while simultaneously going unnoticed. He was actually playing a keyboard on top of the piano for this number and several others I saw. It blows me away how pianists can play over their heads like that.
Doug and Devin both did well with their solos. Devin sounded even better than he does on the studio version. I still think that he could stick closer to the melody, but his tone was very strong and clear. This performance was another highlight.
Here they broke out the two microphones and ran through some Influenced stuff—“The Bible Told Me So,” “Old-Fashioned Love,” and “Swinging On the Golden Gate.” Ernie opted not to do the elaborate introduction of the kazoo this time, instead just bringing it out without warning. This shortens the routine, so I think it’s a wise idea. The guys always do a great job putting on their “Oh brother, this is embarrassing” faces during his solo and the ensuing “business” (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up or go to one of their concerts!)
“Swinging On the Golden Gate” was easily the highlight. They’ve added a new acapella introduction that works really well. The band was in peak form for this one, especially Kelly.
Next up was “Get Away Jordan.” This was a lot of fun. The drums were a little overpowering, but this is a great high energy number, and the audience ate it up. For a song with virtually no melody, they sure do make it exciting! This is also one of their last “holdouts” as far as choreography is concerned, but honestly I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of songs that night that featured any significant “moves.” Also impressive was the fact that they did this with just the live band. It’s remarkable what a full sound they can create with just the instruments they have.
They then encored the song, at which point Ernie pulled out a confetti gun. I groaned under my breath, but I wasn’t expecting what happened next… the gun literally fell apart in Ernie’s hands!! He motioned the band to keep playing while he tried to shoot the confetti, but it was just dribbling out pathetically. The audience was rolling, and so were the guys. Ernie feebly tried to toss a few of the strands out, even pulling them out and throwing them, then eventually flung the gun down in disgust: “I paid good money for that!” He certainly played the moment to the hilt, whether or not it was planned, and I just couldn’t stop laughing. I wanted to ask him later whether it was planned, but I forgot. I hope it wasn’t. However, Ernie should take note that it’s MUCH more fun when the confetti gun doesn’t work than when it does! Ian got some of the confetti on his trousers and tried to shake it off…it was just hilarious. (Regrettably, this was one of the moments I missed with my camera. Grrrrr.)
Here Ernie introduced the band (including Kelly on guitar, Zak Shumate on drums, and jack-of-all-trades David Griffith who can do everything from driving the bus to playing bass guitar). Ernie then discussed the formation of StowTown Records and the new project with George Younce, from which they proceeded to sing the radio single “You’ll Get Your Reward Someday.” They played a video of George singing along with them, which I wasn’t expecting since I looked around and couldn’t find a live performance of the song anywhere. It’s a mystery to me where it came from—Ernie’s basement, maybe? Anyway, Wayne was fantastic on this one. Though he didn’t play the piano on the studio version, he more than delivered live.
Next was “Jesus is Holding My Hand,” Doug’s new single from his upcoming solo project. For those who didn’t read my little interview with him, the song is penned by Lyn Rowell and Wendy Wills. (Fans of the Collingsworth family will recognize another song Lyn Rowell has contributed to—“Oh the Thought That Jesus Loves Me.”) At some point I plan to write a commentary post about radio singles, and I will use this song as a model of what a good radio single should be: It plays well on the radio, and yet it’s obviously going to be an album highlight as well. Too often promoters just select something that seems “radio-friendly” to them, and whether or not it’s actually a good song seems to play a much less important role in the decision.
Doug’s delivery on this song was tremendously moving. He is so good that it’s easy to take him for granted. I could say so many things about his talent and his heart, but they’ve all been said before. I could talk about the sheer beauty of his voice, the absolute sincerity with which he delivers any lyric, his affectionate nature, his sweet smile…and how stinking unfair it is for him to be that talented AND photogenic… But like I said, I’ll let other people re-hash all that. As Ernie said, “He could sing the yellow pages and make me cry.”
At this point Ernie just talked some and brought a very good message about encouraging the people around you, whether they are ahead of you or behind you in their talent. But he also said something else which I thought was very insightful: “You don’t make yourself sick to make somebody else look better. You just keep doing well.” That is so true for a lot of things in life: Whatever the context is, we should do the very best we can even as we simultaneously cheer on and encourage people who might not be as gifted.
They closed the second half with “We Shall See Jesus.” Devin always does a great job with this song. The lighting was also done very well here, as they turned the stage lights down to leave the group members in silhouette after the verse describing Jesus’ crucifixion. (Most of the time, the lights just seemed like extra stuff, but here they were actively contributing to the mood and power of the song.) By the time Glen Payne had come onto the screen and delivered the climax, the audience was standing up. Tremendous moment, and of course it was an evening highlight. It will be interesting to see whether they use the video again when they come back next year or let Devin sing it all the way through then. Meanwhile, for those who haven’t seen my review of the Tribute DVD, I’d like to share what my thoughts were then about the technique of using Glen’s video:
When people lose a loved one today, too many of them turn to empty means of comfort like letter-writing, or worse, to the occult, to give themselves a feeling of communication with the person. Yet Glen’s presence through video with the group as they sing provides a powerful reminder of the communion of saints without any such desperate measures. We as Christians do not need to convince ourselves that Glen is alive—we know that he is alive. He was with the group that night in more ways than one. Yes, we will see him again one day, but in the meanwhile, we have the assurance that he is living still.
I did my interview with Ian Owens during intermission and also had Wayne sign my Tribute DVD (which I had already collected some of the other guys’ signatures on before the show, including Zak and David). Unfortunately, that was the only contact I had with Wayne that night. I wanted to catch up with him afterwards, but I just missed him. Ah well.
They opened the second half with “Love is Like a River.” This has a great classic rock sound to it. For some reason it reminds me of “Splish Splash.” (Come to think of it, it sounds a LOT like “Splish Splash.”) Devin took the lead and stole the show. There were some classic duet and trio moments too and improvisations galore from singers and musicians alike.
Next was “Wedding Music.” Ian delivered his solo beautifully. He strained just a tad on the word “preparation,” but it wasn’t a big deal. It elicited deserved applause from the audience.
They then launched into “Mexico.” There was an accompanying slideshow. One picture showed a group of Mexican musicians, and when it rolled around again at the end, the group members’ faces had been photo-shopped in—very cute. And of course the sombreros came out halfway through…
Next up, a personal favorite of mine—“Swing Down Chariot!” Ian sounded incredible, and Wayne and Doug worked together great on the first verse. (Of course Wayne’s “surprise” cameo was later played to good comedic effect: “I was bored and thought I’d sing.”) And then of course Ernie did his Elvis impression. I think just about every camera in the place was flashing when he did the final move (yes, including mine). Personally, I think I like it better when Ernie sings the song in his voice instead of Elvis’s—more like he does it on the Together video. But it sure is fun to watch his inner ham come to the fore.
Ernie and Wayne interacted a little at this point, with Ernie assuring us that there really is a river of joy running inside that man, it just hasn’t made it to his face yet. Of course this is deliberately exaggerated (“Smile, Wayne.” “I am smiling”), but there is actually some truth to it. Wayne does have a very impassive, professional look when he’s working. Myself, I like that: He’s got a job to do, and he’s giving it his full attention. However, he did cut loose a little on some Michael Buble for us, with Signature Sound-customized lyrics (“Now I travel with Ernie…Don’t get around much anymore!”) Whoever came up with the idea of having Wayne incorporate this into their live concerts, it’s cute and works really well to show off Wayne’s talent and sense of humor. Come to think of it, I’d rather hear Wayne sing it than Buble. Two thumbs up!
They’ve taken to putting Wayne’s Buble cover together with Ernie’s cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Ernie sang the first verse and “forgot” to sing the rest of it so Doug could tell him to finish the song and build up to a big climax. The band and all the guys performed it with great relish, and I have to say that it was very enjoyable. Ernie brought the house down with (I think) a standing ovation. Crowd response was easily one of the biggest of the night.
Next was “Can He, Could He, Would He.” A few little kids were dancing in the aisles. Not sure whether they came out on their own or were invited, but it was cute. Video of the Tribute performance was rolled to accompany them.
Here they moved directly into “Champion of Love” and used a full track, though Zak provided live percussion. It’s not my all-time favorite Cathedrals song, but it’s always been a good piece of music, and Wayne sang it very well. I think they used some dry ice on this one, as they did for a number of the songs. It seems to me to be a dispensable part of the show, but others may disagree.
Wayne then went back to the piano and launched into “Reason Enough.” This song is very sweet and tastefully done. Though not the best original song the group has come up with, it’s certainly one of the better ones. They delivered it beautifully, and once again, Wayne’s accompaniment was just right.
Then came what I feel was the brightest moment of the entire evening: Ian Owens’ rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross.” Ernie spoke some words about his talent, but also about his heart. He said that already he has received e-mails from fans with stories about Ian’s generosity and kindness. As Ernie said, it was that same kind spirit that made George who he was, and today people can see it shining in Ian.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to hear Ian sing this hymn unless you’ve heard it for yourself. His bass voice is so incredibly mature that you wouldn’t guess just hearing him how comparatively young he is. He truly has an astonishing gift, and already I think it would be fair to rank him as one of the premier bass singers on the road today. I would place him second only to Pat Barker.
Immediately afterwards, Ernie began “Oh What a Savior” acapella. The audience spontaneously began quietly singing along on the chorus, and Ernie encouraged us to sing out. He paused after the first chorus to share his vision of what heaven will be like, with all the redeemed gathered in glory, and, just maybe, one “wore-out tenor singer…” He stood and led the audience in another chorus, then launched into the climactic moment, which still amazes me every time. The entire audience had their hands in the air by the time he was through. Later I learned that he first had the audience sing along the week before when he came down with borderline pneumonia. As he said, “I couldn’t sing it, but people still wanted to hear it.” It worked so well that he decided to do it again even though he was “almost 100% back” last Saturday. Personally, I feel that it is powerful, although the range of the song does make it a little hard to sing along in just one octave. He immediately turned around after finishing the song and led us in “Nothing But the Blood,” and that, I think, made for much easier audience participation. (Incidentally, I thought it was very classy of Ernie to do this. Some smart-alecky people like to call it the “Oh What a Singer” song, but Ernie wasted no time placing the focus where it belonged.)
They finished out the evening with “Amen.” Last year, when I saw them with the Collingsworth family, Ernie let Phil Jr. sing the first half of the final verse. Interestingly, he also handed that bit to someone else this time—Wayne Haun. Of course Ernie always comes bursting in for the high note. It was a roaring, bang-up finale!
Per their usual recent practice, they left us with a last encore of “Boundless Love” before taking their final leave.
Afterwards I was able to catch up with Ernie, who was in high demand but graciously signed several things for me, including my cherished Cathedrals album Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas. No, I am not selling, in case you were wondering. We talked a little about the work I’d done for them, I promoted the new blog, and then a bit later he even took the time to sing a duet with me at my request. I’ve always wanted to do that—it was a sweet moment!
Closing thoughts: Seeing the group live in concert brings home to me the truly extraordinary vocal talent they bring to the table, but it also shows the time and work they put into refining their craft. This sets them apart from singers who might have the same level of talent but don’t put in the work. As for who stood out in particular—honestly it really comes down to saying that Ian is the most talented bass singer in the group, Doug is the most talented baritone, etc. However, I would say that Wayne is clearly the most broadly talented member. The group is in very good hands with him, and I wish all the best for their partnership. As for Ian Owens, I’m absolutely sold on him. He’s a keeper. End of discussion.
As for the song selection, I had favorites that they didn’t happen to sing that night, but there was so much good stuff that it was hard to complain. However, I do feel that they went a little heavy on lighter material, which isn’t necessarily bad, just that I especially go for songs like “Jesus is Holding My Hand.” It’s a little like your favorite salty snack—pick yours, mine is Nachos. You can’t stop eating them, they’re addictive, but at the end of the day, it’s that good, nourishing fried chicken and mashed potatoes that you want to really fill you up. There were a lot of “Nachos” Saturday night, but fortunately there was still enough substantial stuff in the mix to even things out. (It’s also possible that Ernie was pacing himself as he recovers from his illness.)
But the beautiful thing about a Signature Sound concert is that it’s like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. (Okay, okay, so I stole that food analogy. Forrest Gump can sue me if he wants.) One night it might be heavy on the light stuff, another night there might be a higher proportion of ballads. Much of it is made up on the spot. I know from talking with Devin that Ernie and Wayne are the only people who know what’s coming, so the rest of the guys have to watch Ernie and listen to Wayne, being prepared for anything. This is especially impressive since Ian has only been with the group for a little over a month. He must already have committed a considerable amount to memory.
This concert was good enough for one person to leave a facebook comment saying, “I had never heard of you guys before, but someone gave me a ticket for Grand Rapids and now I love you!” I can’t think of a better endorsement than that. Most of my readers are doubtless SG fans, but whatever your musical taste is, if you like fun, good music and good singing, these guys won’t disappoint. Moreover, their music reaches all ages—kids love them, their parents love them, and grandma loves them too. Attending one of their concerts is a fun experience, but it touches the soul as well. Myself, I left looking forward to next year, when Ernie promised to return with some new jokes that might even be funnier than the old ones. I leave it to my readers to surmise how hard that will be.
My Heart Is a Chapel
Life Will Be Sweeter
Changed By a Baby Boy
Movin’ Up to Gloryland
Wonderful Grace of Jesus
Sinner Saved By Grace
The Bible Told Me So
Swinging On the Golden Gate
Get Away Jordan
You’ll Get Your Reward Someday
Jesus is Holding My Hand
We Shall See Jesus
Boundless Love reprise
Love is Like a River
Swing Down Chariot
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore/Can’t Help Falling in Love
Can He, Could He, Would He
Champion of Love
The Old Rugged Cross
Oh What a Savior
Nothing But the Blood
Boundless Love reprise