Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Prisha Verrier0
Review: NeedtoBreathe and Drew Holcomb and Co. hit the PAC
NeedtoBreathe, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
North Charleston Performing Arts Center, May 11
South Carolina boys NeedtoBreathe returned to their Holy City hometown this weekend, wrapping their six-week “Drive All Night” tour with a packed house at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
My familiarity with the band consisted mostly of the radio hits from their 2011 album The Reckoning and a little tune by the name of “The Outsiders.”
Turns out The Reckoning is a much more straight-forward, pop-rock kind of album than the rest of the band’s catalog, so I was surprised when the opening act, country/Americana band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, kicked off the night.
Opening with the title track from their latest record, Good Light, Holcomb’s Nashville quartet had a sweet vibe filled with layers of sliding guitar and Hammond-esque keys. There were a lot of late arrivals to the PAC, which exacerbated the dreaded “Charleston chatter” that permeates so many good shows in this town, but the crowd cheered enthusiastically for certain tunes, such as “Live Forever” (which opened with several bars that jarringly evoked memories of the Twin Peaks theme), and the homesick “Tennessee.”
Holcomb’s vocals were often accompanied by his wife of seven years, Ellie, whose feathery, if not overly breathy voice provided a delicate compliment to his clear, strong lead. The two shared a huddled spot beneath the warm glow of the spotlight for the love song, “The Wine We Drink,” which was by far one of the most intimate and stripped down moments of the evening. With other songs like “Midnight Angel,” “What Would I Do Without You,” and “Nothing But Trouble,” their tempo remained a fairly predictable pace throughout the set, but the band made good use of dynamics and texture, and they wrapped their portion of the show with “Fire and Dynamite.” Four minutes of cascading chords and a soaring chorus with a steady anchor in the pounding drum beat, this song was a lively end to an otherwise serene performance, and it served as an apt segue into the headlining act.
When NeedtoBreathe took the stage, they sounded nothing like I expected from the radio-friendly singles I’d thought I knew — and that was a good thing. The upright bass throbbed like the throaty sputter of a ‘65 Chevy rumbling to life; the banjo rattled and danced and the guitars wailed, while the drum kit – often buried within over-produced studio albums – boasted a full, lumbering drive. The only familiar component was the voice of Bear Rinehart, a willowy commanding force that threaded a comforting continuity throughout the performance.
From “Devil’s Been Talkin’” to the bluesy “Wanted Man,” NeedtoBreathe stirred a body buzz in the audience that’s usually reserved for the seedier side of the music biz. From start to finish, the once chatty crowd was on its feet, whistling and howling, cheering and clapping. Ellie Holcomb joined the band for a pretty rendition of “Stones Under Rushing Water,” and to my surprise, she let loose and showed off some pipes that had somehow been hiding beneath her earlier powdery performance.
The band talked about their upcoming fifth studio album, the tentatively titled La Differencia, but it was when Rinehart said they were going to dig into some of the older tunes that the crowd lost it; the energy, the excitement, and the synergy was palpable. The hopeful “More Time” incited a full scale sing-along, while the sweeping piano feature in “A Place Only You Can Go” melted softly into the space between the strums of Rinehart’s guitar, just to be built back into a lively cover of “Stand By Me.”
Joined onstage by Drew Holcomb, and eventually his entire band, NeedtoBreathe wrapped their set with a humble thank you, a kiss blown into the air, and a bow. But the crowd cheered and stomped their feet, rising like a fever, until the band returned to the stage and launched into a spot-on, banjo riddled performance of their 2009 single, “The Outsiders.” With splinters of silver light streaming overhead, they played a second encore song, “Keep Your Eyes Open,” followed by a track from the forthcoming album, a soulful ode to the band’s Christian roots.
“This song means a lot to us, and it’s one of the first written for the new record,” Rinehart breathed into the microphone. “This is a special night for real, so thank y’all.” And with that, two acoustic guitars and four rapturously harmonized voices brought the Performing Arts Center to a praise-worthy hush.
Prisha Verrier is a Charleston-based freelance writer, journalist, and music lover. She runs the music blog Rock n Roll Feedback.
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