When my wife and I went to Franklin in October to see the taping of this masterpiece, we knew it was something special. Now the rest of the world knows it too! The live performances of each of these songs are amped-up from the original recordings... the mix is much clearer than the originals in many cases... and John's voice has a ragged hard-rock sound that we haven't heard often from him on recordings. I didn't think it was possible to make any of the songs from Jekyll & Hyde rock even harder, but in a couple of cases, Petra manages. AWESOME!
It is obvious that the crowd was hyped at the performance... the CD starts out with a cheering crowd chanting "PE-TRA! PE-TRA! PE-TRA!" "All About Who You Know" is an interesting choice to start the album, but I think it works well. Unfortunately John seems to have been having a little bit of a struggle with his tuning on that one song, but it's subtle enough that most people won't notice, and the others won't care... the music is ROCKIN'! I especially love the "wow-wow" effect Bob has on his guitar during some of the choruses.
And how can you resist a song that starts off with John Schlitt screaming, "I don't know about you guys, but I FEEL LIKE DAN-CEEEENNNNNN!" and the drummer kicking the song off with "One! Two! Three! WOO!!" This song is a great example of a live version that is mixed with far crunchier guitars than the original. I especially enjoy the little backbeat hiccups they've added in between the lines of the verses.
Another example of a much louder mix than the original album cut is "Amazing Grace." Listen to me: if you haven't heard Petra's "Amazing Grace" live, or on this CD, you have NOT heard Petra's "Amazing Grace". The guitars are searing, and the drums are relentless! The first time I heard this track I thought there was some feedback in the "When we've been there ten thousand years..." section, but when I listened the second time I realized that it was Greg Bailey playing harmonics on his bass! It's not that often that you hear a bass player doing something like that. Greg is a serious musician; the guy shines on this album. I doubt he will ever have any trouble working in the music industry if he chooses to continue to pursue that.
If you're looking for face-melting, chunky guitar, look no further than "Test Of Time." This one is one that seems just a tiny bit pumped up from the already-exciting Jekyll & Hyde version, which you wouldn't think would be possible. A highlight for me is the ethereal guitar mini-solo during the "Time will slip away" chant on the bridge; it truly does sound like something coming out of the depths of time. There are several points on this album where Bob provides such an interesting flavor with the effects he chose for his guitar parts... the no-keys open of "Creed", with an airy phased guitar sound providing a much eerier atmosphere than the synth-drenched version from Beyond Belief, being a prime example. This one deserves to be CRANKED!
My favorite example of a clearer mix than the original on this CD is "Right Place". The guitar and bass on the verses have such a complex interaction, and they're playing so fast, that you really have to listen closely to appreciate all that's going on. I actually thought that Greg Bailey had embellished the original version until I went back and listened; the frantic bass part is there in the original on No Doubt, but in comparison to this recording, that mix sounds muddy. The drums and bass get to pull off some fun little stuff during this song; Paul Simmons positively POUNDS his double kick bass at one point... very exciting!
There are two medleys on this CD: a rock medley, and an "acoustic set" (what makes one a medley and one a "set"? I have no idea... although they did actually sit down during the "acoustic set!") The versions of most of the songs in the rock medley are MUCH crunchier than the originals... particularly "It Is Finished". I love the pounding kick drum on the infamous "royal, loyal, soil, oil" chorus of "Midnight Oil". This version of "Think Twice" is more rhythmic than the original, almost rap-like, and sounds to me like a theme song from a cool modern cop show. And the ending of "It Is Finished"... if you've never heard it on Beat The System or Captured in Time & Space you can't truly appreciate this ending. Bob and Greg manage to pull off what originally took several tracks of keyboards to create. Just another example of the musicianship present in these guys! John's voice on this track sounds almost raw, like he's on the verge of screaming the whole time. VERY cool. VERY urgent. Perfect for these songs. (Funny... I never literally "heard the bell" during "This Means War" before!)
At the sound of the tone... you will FEEL LIKE JEKYLL & HYDE! I'll tell you, when Paul sounds the chimes after the rock medley, it sends chills down my spine. This recording of "Jekyll & Hyde" is very similar to the original, but that's fine... why mess with success? The crowd obviously loves it! Strangely, the next track is the acoustic medley... it seems weird to lead into that from one of Petra's hardest songs ever, but it works well on the CD. Greg X. Volz joined current Petra for this song; Greg X. sang lead on the songs he originally recorded, and John Schlitt sang lead on the ones he originally recorded. They provided background vocals for each other... and they sound GREAT! Greg is playing a cello, and I know everyone will notice it... it's positively striking. (I was hoping they would name this track what I've heard it called in concert reviews... the "mello cello" medley!) My favorite cello moment is the introduction to "The Coloring Song" when Greg actually plays the little flute line from the original. Lovely! The transitions between songs on this track are beautiful... I guarantee when you hear them go into your favorite Petra ballad, it will bring tears to your eyes. My favorite transition is when they are finishing "For Annie" (which somehow, incredibly, manages to not be weepy in this incarnation) with the line, "It's not... too late" and Greg X. says, "Never too late!" and then they go into "No Doubt". How touching is that? And of course, my wife and I (and all of the probably thousands of couples who played it at their weddings) positively "Love" the last song in the medley.
The acoustic set has an interesting quality to it that is not present in the "Mellow Medley" on Captured in Time & Space... it comes off as a vary intimate performance, almost like John and Greg are sitting right at a table with you, telling you something directly from their hearts. It is very warm and inviting, like talking with friends. Or like sitting around with friends singing your favorite songs together. Which, I suppose, is what it really was... friends performing for what John calls, early on the CD, Petra's friends (the fans who have been with them for so long).
I remember in Franklin when Petra performed "Grave Robber" with Greg X. Volz and John Lawry on stage, I cried my eyes out, for two reasons. One was that it almost felt like actually being at the taping of Captured in Time & Space... it sounded so much like that recording that I could almost imagine I was there. The other reason that I was so emotional was because it washed over me at the time that one day, loved ones we have lost truly WILL be back with us again... Jesus really WILL come and "steal us away." It was a major worship experience for me that night. But the fact that it sounds so much like the Captured version is, to me, a bit of a liability for this CD; it's like having the same exact song twice. However, it does show off the fact that Greg X. Volz has lost none of his skill as a vocalist over the past twenty years; it's a stunning performance. And new fans deserve to hear this gem; I guess if I hadn't listened to Captured about a million times over the years, this would probably be a highlight of the CD for me.
One difference in this case is that John Lawry goes directly from "Grave Robber" into a beautiful synth strings solo, which does nothing but enhance the mood of the song while still bringing things up to a lighter mood, just in time for one of the most famous keyboard solos of all time... "Je-Je-Je, Je-Je-Je...!" It doesn't sound exactly like the solo we all know and remember, but it is very close, and to me the small differences bring so much more humor to the solo than the original... it's fun that Lawry was willing to re-create his performance while adding a little bit of self-parody!
"Beyond Belief" is a Christian rock classic. It's great to hear the concert version of it, complete with Lawry's keyboards! Another one that deserves to be played LOUD! And another chance for Bob to throw in some phased guitar during the bridge. When it's over Petra goes instantly into a ZZ Top-esque guitar solo (with rhythm section) that I really enjoy. At the end of the solo Bob starts very quietly playing the intro to "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered" on guitar... really a neat way to start off this perennial Petra favorite show-closer. I love how John sounds like he's about to lose control when he sings the second "HE ROOOOOSE!" on each verse... it reminds me of that famous psycho "WAAAAAHHHHH" he let out on the Head East track "Never Been Any Reason". It occurs to me to wonder if Bob wrote the melody that way just to hear John do that every night!
I do have a few criticisms of the album. The mix seems a bit boomy to me on good stereo equipment. However, I've noticed this on a couple of other recently-released CDs that I have, and I think it may be an industry reaction to the reality that many people are now listening to music on computer speakers and iPods, and a little extra bass is a good thing in those cases. I would like to hear a little more of the crowd in some cases; at the show I heard us singing along on almost every chorus! But I sympathize with the producer's decision to mix the CD so you hear Petra all the time and the rowdy crowd every once in a while, though, and honestly if I had not been present at the taping, hearing too much crowd might have bugged me. I do miss the songs that were left off the CD ("Judas' Kiss" with John on lead, "Lord I Lift Your Name On High", and "I Am A C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N"). I dearly hope they are on the DVD; the world deserves to hear John ripping through "Judas' Kiss"! But, in the CD's defense, the recordings come off as just a LITTLE faster, just a LITTLE rockier, and just a LITTLE more energetic than the originals. It's an AWESOME album! And there is something about these recordings that has made me think about some of Petra's lyrics in a way I haven't thought about them for years. I have reconsidered what place there might be for me "beyond" my "belief". I remembered that I do "have this hope, though my heart may still ache". I remembered not to forget to "think twice" when "something inside says stay away". This album breathes new life into old, "time-tested" songs, to borrow a phrase. It is definitely worth a listen.