“Tonight we’re going to play every song we know,” shouted Bear Rinehart, lead singer of award-winning band Needtobreathe (sorry, I refuse to do the all caps thing). And they did not disappoint, as they played an astonishing 23-song set at the sold out House of Blues in downtown Chicago on November 9.
It is not hyperbole when I say that Needtobreathe is a master craftsman of the live music experience. This was my 7th time seeing them play since 2010. In that time, they have leapfrogged all the other “best live bands” out there. The November 9th show was not my favorite of their concerts through the years, but it was still one of the (if not THE) best live concerts I saw this year.
HIGHLIGHT #1 – The unexpected hidden gems from the back catalogue. Needtobreathe has the difficult task every tour of playing the bulk of their new record, and finding the space to fit in the expected songs of the past (of course they have to play fan-favorites “Washed By The Water” and “The Outsiders”). But it’s fun to have them sneak in some unexpected surprises, like “Lay Em Down” and “Stones Under Rushing Water.”
HIGHLIGHT #2 – The roll out piano at center stage. I can’t recall another time in the last 8 years of seeing this band that I saw Bear Rinehart play the piano. Josh Lovelace took over after one song, but it was nice to them both make use of that piano for three songs.
HIGHLIGHT #3 – The time Bear became a walking disco ball. It didn’t feel like a traditional encore, but the planned exit culminated with Bear singing “Wasteland” while walking through the crowd. Lights were bouncing off of his disco-dazzling jacket, which really took full effect when he made it back to the stage.
HIGHLIGHT #4 – Covers. Even bands with a rich catalogue like Needtobreathe still see the value in a well-timed cover during a live set. I 100% agree. They did a short coda of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, a version of The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun,” and their extended version of “Stand By Me” was one of the show-stopping songs of the night.
HIGHLIGHT #5 – The final two songs were masterfully performed by the four core members of the band gathered around a single vintage condenser microphone. They ended the night with “Cages” which was a surprise because it might have been the least known song of the night (only available on their B-side album Hard Cuts), but Bear called it “the most vulnerable and personal song I’ve ever written.”
LOWLIGHTS – There are very few complaints. Of course, I’m too old for a standing-room only venue… at least one where I had to stand for well over 2 hours before Needtobreathe took the stage. My least favorite performance moment was their wildly popular song “Brother” – which is one of my favorites from their catelogue. It was the only song of the night where it was clear that they were using vocal backing tracks, which just took the air out of that performance, at least to me.
All in all, the ALLTHEFEELS tour is not one to be missed (if you can find a ticket). The band hardly ever has a misstep. They take you on a wonderful journey that is layered and textured, with nuance and balance. Some bands stay in one groove for the whole night. But Needtobreathe can pull it back, amp it up, and include the audience at every step. It truly was a masterclass in the perfect live set.
Don’t Bring That Trouble
Money & Fame
The House of the Rising Sun
State I’m In
Washed By The Water
Keep Your Eyes Open
Feet Don’t Fail Me Now
Let’s Stay Home Tonight
Stand By Me
Lay ‘Em Down
Stones Under Rushing Water