TOBYMAC Continues To Set The Standard For Christian Music’s Live Show—Performs Poignant NYC Tour Date Hours After Paris Attacks
There’s a certain aura when seeing an event at the “world’s most famous arena,” Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The venue’s storied past is rich with monumental memories of game-winning baskets, Stanley Cup victories, and the crowd pleasing singing of “Piano Man” forever etched throughout its hallowed corridors.
Upon our arrival to the “Garden” for this evening, a crowd of a few thousand were already lined up—some to see the NBA’s New York Knicks, while others were anticipating TobyMac, Colton Dixon, Britt Nicole, and Hollyn for the ***THIS IS NOT A TEST*** Tour, and a triumphant night of worship.
Just a few hours removed from the attacks on Paris, France, the city was noticeably on edge. As believers, we understand that biblically, where ever two or three are gathered—He is also there (Matthew 18:20), as the close-to-capacity Garden Theater stood in solidarity and praise. That New York feeling of, “We’ve been through this before,” seemed to fill the air this night, as thoughts and prayers were offered throughout the evening.
Hollyn jolted us with her fierce energy and voice, as she opened up the night. Her brief set would only serve as an introduction, as she became a frequent collaborator with TobyMac throughout his set later into the concert.
Following Hollyn, was former American Idol finalist, Colton Dixon. Keeping the energy going, Dixon masterfully orchestrated behind his grand piano—displaying his versatility as the raucous rocker and the delicate balladeer—as his powerful voice filled through the room.
Highlighting Dixon’s performance was his immaculate stage production. The lighting design was particularly on point, as color contrasts and movements changed perfectly, capturing the mood of the songs and bringing the environment to life.
His most memorable performance came during the final song, “In and Out of Time,” as he leaped onto the piano and jumped around while the band ripped through their instruments.
Britt Nicole took the stage next, and kept us on our feet with her brand of high-octane dance/pop performances. Speaking of dance, the girl has game, but to our surprise, Nicole showed off an equally impressive flow on the mic as she busted out Lecrae‘s rap verse on the song “Ready Or Not.”
Always a crowd-pleasing move, Nicole became one of us by immersing herself into the audience. Exiting stage left while still performing, she hugged, high fived, and took selfies with willing participants (we noticed no objections). Nicole then led a special prayer for Paris, and closed the set with her new song “Be The Change.”
We experienced a low hum in the atmosphere, as those gathered in the Theatre anticipated the final act. Among the many reasons for TobyMac’s longevity is a reputation for putting on one of the most entertaining and inspiring performances in the business. This show would not disappoint, as McKeehan would soon begin the first of his twenty songs performed alongside his the DiverseCity Band.
The set mostly featured cuts from his latest album, ***THIS IS NOT A TEST***, with the first performance being “’Til The Day I Die.” TobyMac literally pulls back the curtain as he and the band show up as silhouettes on a screen before popping out into real life.
Skipping ahead to “Unstoppable,” DJ Maj selected some tasty old school break-beats for McKeehan to rap on throughout the song. This was a crucial part of the experience, as the “former” emcee dusted off his rap mic and proved it’s an innate skill set.
On “Back Seat Driver,” Hollyn fulfilled her role as she had on the ***THIS IS NOT A TEST*** recording, but in a twist, she, McKeehan, and hype man GabeReal collaborated on stage in place of McKeehan’s son, TRU (Truett McKeehan, who is featured on the album).
“Made To Love” showcased the Diverse City Band’s versatility, as three of the members traded in their principal instruments for horns. McKeehan jetted down the ramp, which led to center stage, and engaged the audience as worship ensued. The horns were prominently featured, and added another dimension to the unique timbre of the night.
The horn section continued, as Hollyn joined them on “Funky Jesus Music,” as the already amped-up crowd embraced the swing, soul and funk of this performance.
If we were compiling an official list, “Eye On It” would be in contention for “Performance Of The Night.” The energy seemed upgraded, as McKeehan sang his vocals with the ferocity of a rock ‘n roll front man. Backup singer Nirva sang as if she were on top of a mountain, and two of the DiverseCity band members once again jumped off their instruments—this time wielding marching band drums. On top of all of this, the song led into a sequenced gang dance number.
As it has become a staple in most big touring shows, the ***THIS IS NOT A TEST*** Tour also includes a more acoustic, stripped-down set. In this movement, songs “Steal My Show,” the old school “Catchafire (Whoopsi Daisy),” and “Hey Now” were featured. A sincere moment of intimate worship occurred during the almost quiet-like performance of “Lose My Soul.”
Hitting the Garden Theatre with a healthy dose of nostalgia, the lights dimmed and a video tribute to McKeehan’s father proceeded. This was a touching segue into the single “Love Feels Like,” which features former DC Talk band mates Michael Tait (now fronting Newsboys), and Kevin Max.
The stage faded to black, with the exception of subtle red and blue floor lighting, as a video screen revealed a recorded Tait and Max to either side. The portrayal emulated a DC Talk show, the likes of which Christian concert fans haven’t experienced for the better part of fifteen years—it was a magical moment. It was apparent that it also had an affect on McKeehan, as he dramatically collapsed to both knees, following the most heart-felt performance of the night.
In addition to Hollyn’s reappearances throughout the night, Dixon and Britt Nicole joined McKeehan both vocally and instrumentally on performances of “Undeniable,” and “Lights Shine Bright.” For the concert’s finale, the entire crew—Hollyn, Dixon, Nicole, TobyMac and DiverseCity—shared the stage on “Feel It,” complete with a confetti celebration.
House lights “up,” show complete. ***THIS IS NOT A TEST*** proves that TobyMac continues to improve his game, while never compromising the heart of what he feels called to do. Of the many takeaways from this memorable night, was the sense of genuine unity among the body in worshipping the Lord. Not to be lost or forgotten, are the thoughts and prayers for the people halfway across the world simply attempting to enjoy the same kind-of evening—a night out among friends and community, while enjoying good, live music.
Full Set List: Til the Day I Die / This Is Not A Test / Unstoppable / Back Seat Driver / Beyond Me / Made To Love / Speak Life / Funky Jesus Music / Eye On It / Steal My Show / Catchafire (Whoopsie Daisy) / Hey Now / Lose My Soul / Move (Keep Walkin’) / DJ Maj Interlude / Love Feels Like / Undeniable / Me Without You / Light’s Shine Bright / Tonight / Feel It