Ex-pat Australian Luke Smallbone and his wife, Courtney, strolled around Dawes Point on the long weekend Monday morning. When they saw the sails of the Sydney Opera House across the harbour, both gasped at the beauty of the iconic building. Courtney also exclaimed, ‘wow, Luke, you’re performing there tonight!’
And perform he did.
Luke and older brother Joel are Christian pop rock duo ‘For King and Country’. They had a packed Concert Hall on its feet, clapping and singing along for two hours in their first performance ever in their home country.
For King and Country are a percussion-driven band. Their gear includes two sets of traditional rock band drums as well as kettle drums, a huge marching band drum, electronically generated drum sounds and there’s prolific use of hand cymbals throughout. No wonder their signature song has become their version of the Christmas tune, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, which provided a mighty finale to the show.
A multi-skilled group of musicians back the duo – performers who each played just about everything that was on the stage and moved around constantly from instrument to instrument. My there was movement! Whether it was performers dancing around the stage, musicians switching from the cello to the keyboards, harmonium or glockenspiel, or the duo heading out into the audience to shake hands while singing, there was hardly a song that was delivered with everyone in the one spot throughout.
Along with multiple video screens carrying images, movie scenes, or a dazzling light show, the combination was a concert that is pulsating, energetic, dynamic and passionate in its delivery.
Being a Christian group, there’s high importance placed on the words and the message of the songs. Some are simple exhortations to “Never Give Up” or to choose “Joy”, while others are more complex explorations of God’s love and what it means in daily living. “God Only Knows” addresses depression and loneliness; “Burn the Ships”, after which their current world tour is named, is about moving on from the things that hold us back in our faith journey; and “Priceless”, the soundtrack for the movie of that name about human trafficking in which Joel is the lead actor, is a message for women about how God sees them, about how no matter what they’ve been told in the world, ‘this is who you really are – priceless’.
Perhaps on occasion the boys could tone down the percussion and focus a little more on the lyrics. Some other audience members I’ve spoken to found it hard to actually distinguish the words, though after the sound engineers sorted out the mixing after the opening two numbers I had no problem personally. It’s rock and it’s loud, though the decibels were set, I’m sure, a bit lower than many other bands would have them.
Engaging the audience is also important for the band. They do this through sharing their personal stories particularly when it’s reflected in the words of the next song, or discussing the causes they champion. Compassion International were present and both of the duo encourage child sponsorship as one part of the fight against global poverty. I think they could tighten up the spoken elements of their show, which at times were a bit laborious, but overall they made a positive contribution to the experience of their concert.
The duo’s journey back home to perform in Sydney is a long one. It could easily have been derailed at many points. Their parents lost all their livelihood after a failed venture when the boys were young; a job opportunity took the six children and one on the way from Wahroonga to Nashville, Tennessee, only for the family to end up living from hand to mouth as strangers in a strange land after the job failed to materialise; Luke had to deal with a life threatening illness a few years ago. Through all this and more, the Smallbones have a powerful testimony of trust in God and the way they were provided for by faithful generous friends and strangers. That generosity sowed the seed that has produced a family that is deeply engaged with God’s kingdom, through music, film and giving back to global causes such as child poverty and modern slavery. (Their elder sister is Christian singer, actor and public speaker, Rebecca St James.)
As a child, Joel attended concerts at the Opera House that his father had promoted. For him and his brother to be on that stage, receiving a raucous standing ovation, was a deeply moving and humbling moment.
It was well deserved for the performance they’d just put on. The other venues on their tour around Australia are in for a treat.
Keep an eye out on the For King and Country website for other performance dates.