Petra: Audun Reed1's Concert Review

Petra Farewell tour
November 26th, 2005
Flekkeroy Athletic Hall
Kristiansand, Norway

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When John, Greg, Paul and Bob came to my adopted home town of Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, November 2004, most local Petheads thought that would be their final chance to see our boys live. We were proven to be wrong. Once the announcement came that Petra was going to disband, more than just one US and overseas mind luckily started toying with the idea of a farewell tour—a chance for loyal fans to sayonara (we'll meet in heaven) a fabulous quartet that has provided so much joy and pride in the fact that there have been servants of the Lord playing some umistakably loud music of such consistently high quality.

And once Josh Renaud broke the news on his web site that the real thing, the fall "Farewell Tour" was going to materialize, plans were immediately germinating in my heart. I just knew I had to be there. I wasn't at all surprised, though, to learn that one of the venues for their brief European tour was going to be Kristiansand and Flekkerøy Athletic Hall. The November 2004 concert in Bergen, Norway, drew a meagre 150 people, despite that fact that Bergen is Norway's second largest city with a sizeable number of saints in it. Petra has probably always had its largest fanbase in Norway in this southern coastal rim called "Sørlandet" (The South Country), of which Kristiansand is unofficially the capital.

Animated by the prospect of getting to savour another live experience, I phoned my long-time friend Halvard. For the past 15 years we've been living hundreds of miles apart, but frequent emails and phone calls have only cemented our friendship. Knowing that Halvard would probably respond as enthusiastically as I had to the news, I was confident that he'd also consider going there with me. He only needed about four seconds to mull the idea over in his mind. "Yeeees, I'll come."

So early August saw me booking plane tickets and clearing my schedule for this Big Event. Travelling by air is a pricey entreprise, so to get hold of the cheapest possible tickets you have to book long ahead of time. Getting a hotel bed is much less of a problem, so I postponed that particular decision to a much later date. And so, for many weeks, all I could do was prepare. And how does a Pethead prepare for an experience of such magnitude? By playing all the Petra CDs you possess. Not being too ecstatic about releases such as Petra and Come And Join Us, I stuck with the ones dating from the late 80s and early 90s—the heyday of petraphonics.

Even a bad bout of fever could never have stopped me from attending, and my friend, being of the same ilk, refused even to succumb to pneumonia, albeit a less dangerous type. The die-hards were going to be there on time. And to no one's surprise, we were there Saturday 26th of November 2005, queing up for the greatest pre-Xmas present I could have dreamed of. I had already spent $500 on this pet(?) project, but who cares about budgetary discipline when Petra's in town?

The guys behind the Christian music festival, "Øygospel" (The Island Gospel festival, www.oygospel.org, an annual event) had probably been working all day round for weeks to make sure everything would go well. I knew that. But standing outside Flekkerøy Athletic Hall, just half an hour before the concert, scanning the scant crowd waiting in the winter cold; I had this harrowing feeling that attendance would probably not exceed the Bergen 2004 crowd by more than a few hundred. Pre-concert sales indicated otherwise, but I still couldn't stop worrying that Petra's Norwegian Farewell Tour memories would be marred by a low turnout. I had felt ashamed back then when so few turned up for the show in my adopted hometown, and I didn't want this evening to be ruined by yet another incident of fans in way too short supply.

Again, my worries were totally unfounded. Things didn't look promising as 8pm trudged along towards 8:30, but eventually 1100 were there to honour the faithful four, enjoying an electrifying atmosphere, going wild with excitement, worshipping God, savouring the moment, being encouraged in the faith, dancing in rapturous celebration. In short: spending quality time with family and friends. Petheads galore from Scandinavia, France, Russia, Scotland and a few stragglers from South Africa! Plus my friend Halvard and myself.

I was vaguely aware that a band called "Dream Pilots" were featured as the warming up act, but what I expected to be a polite pick of three or four songs turned out to be an almost one hour long laborious wait for the real thing. By all means, this Norwegian quartet rocked convincingly 21st century style, but as we were there for Petra, Halvard and I grew increasingly exasperated at joy delayed. Eventually we decided to leave the hall, whiling the waiting time away in the foyer—carping on about this unwelcome generosity on part of the organizers towards the opening act.

But after yet another (charming) intermezzo, consisting of five pre-teens providing a rendition of an old Petra classic, "God Gave Rock And Roll To You", the surprisingly young audience of people mainly in their twenties were finally presented with the treat they had all come to claim. Lights faded fast, and familiar faces appeared to roars from gratified music lovers...

John immediately went to work with undaunted vocal fervour after Bob's guitar had growled and whined in majestic fashion through the opening bars of "All About Who You Know". As often is the case, the mixing was really substandard for the first couple of songs, but then, the first obstacle successfully tackled, all was pure fun, undiluted enjoyment, Petra sounding better than ever.

I've never been a great fan of entries such as "Dance", but boy was I taken by glorious surprise as the band moved into serious rock mode. "Dance" turned out to be yet another great live song, as did the string of other classics following suit.

John probably got most of the lyrics right that evening, albeit his voice did appear a bit strained at times, but jet lag did furnish another genuine Schlitt-brand gaffe to entertain us for days ahead: In between "Dance" and "Amazing Grace" John commented on how great it was to be among people who understood English so well, as he didn't speak any German at all! But Herr Schlitt, of suspected German origin, quickly sensed his verbal blunder, apologizing profusely. You're forgiven John. Besides, we're not that easily offended.

To a certified Pethead of 23 years, the songs entered that evening were a veritable smorgasbord of endless delights. I marveled at the undying appeal of "Creed", donned my biggest smile throughout the rock medley, of which the snippet from "It Is Finished" was a high point for me personally. Petra fed me gospel truths through their lyrics back in the early 80s—in the absence of any true teaching at my then church in the south of Norway. Funnily enough, as John was performing his vocals, in the back of my mind I could simultaneously distinctly hear the voice of Greg X. Volz. A strange duet indeed, but it was my brain bridging a fond memory of past listening experiences and this final climax of Petra both seen and heard.

As gems of musical output kept rolling out of Petra's treasure chest, I felt more than just a twinge of regret. This was really the end. But before I got the chance to lose myself in melancholy, the band swept me off my feet with the incredible beauty of the mellower songs. "Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows" and "More Power To Ya" brought me close to crying. Teardrops were forming in the corners of my eyes as I realized my debt of gratitude to a ministry, a band, that has meant so much to me for so many years.

Don't get me wrong. This wasn't hero-worship. We truly worshipped the Lord through praise songs, sang along as the oldies but goodies were performed, and never felt that we were in the presence of self-serving artists. John, Bob, Greg and Paul acted as they have always done, namely as top-rung musicians devoting themselves and their music to the Lord, and in the process drawing their audience closer to Him who first gave them their talents and ministry. But as we love their, and our, Lord, so we love these guys who've sacrificed so much—for people like us.

Another aspect as far as this concert goes, was the fact that I also got to hear, for the first time, songs like "Beyond Belief" without their original rich keyboard texture. But I don't think any one of the 1100 present disliked the grittier, guitar-dominant versions. I, and the wild bunch of teenagers in the front, seemed to be in agreement: Petra rocked, and will forever rock, big-time, even without the seemingly indispensable keyboard magic of the likes of John Slick and John Lawry.

The concert progressed without much talking in between songs, but both John and Bob touched on the fact that they were ever so grateful for having been received so well in this part of Norway—both on this occasion, as well as the year before. Norway has, according to Bob, been the country most frequently visited by Petra on their overseas tours down through the years. And if their final show was anything to judge by, and it was, they could have continued coming here well into the next decade and beyond.

This night saw an astonishing display of musicianship, particularly on the part of Paul Simmons. The crowd was held in awe by his dexterity in handling the drum kit. But they all excelled on November 26th, giving it their all as if meaning to say, "You've been so loyal to us, now we're paying you back by playing our songs as masterfully as you deserve to hear them."

But Bob Hartman wouldn't be the teacher-evangelist through music that he is if he hadn't appendiced the compulsory post-set songs by giving an altar call. So with the unusually rowdy crowd—by Norwegian standards—hushed, the founder of the band outlined the gospel, yet again highlighting what Petra has all been about all of the time: unashamedly proclaiming the "Good News", thus proving to be true stewards of this "Sacred Trust". And so it was really only fitting that the last Petra song ever to be performed on Norwegian soil was "We Need Jesus".

We do. But my friend Halvard and I also think we need to continue treasuring, and playing, songs that magnify the Lord and his work. And so we will keep tapping into this rich legacy that Petra's songs truly constitute. Once a Pethead, forever a Pethead.

For more concert reviews, click here.

Audun Reed1's Guide to Petra


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