Hillsong United are arguably the world’s biggest Christian band. This CD / DVD package does well to cement that reputation.
Two hours of passionate worship captured on DVD and two CDs has resulted in the best live recording the band has ever released.
The first thing that strikes you about Live in Miami is the sheer size of the stadium the band played in.
Recorded in August 2011 at the American Airlines Arena, the concert attracted thousands of people from across Florida and beyond.
Like it or not, Hillsong are partly to thank for the development of Christian media over the past 20 years. Whether it be the church’s television programs, children’s CDs or massive conferences, everything from the music to the lights to the visuals are always top quality and have encouraged others to aim for excellence.
So it’s no surprise then that Live in Miami pushes the boundaries of live recording. From the camera work to post production and editing effort, everything is not only professional, but cutting-edge and innovative.
Right from the opening track Go, the camera tricks are in full motion as a mirroring effect descends on both stage and audience.
Go was far from the best song on the band’s last studio album Aftermath, but the live arrangement has so much energy to it that you’ll be glued to your television screen.
Looking at the track listing, the band could be criticised for putting together a live album full of old songs. Mighty To Save, Hosanna and The Stand have been recorded by Hillsong in both a live and studio setting before, not to mention covered by numerous other Christian worship leaders and bands.
Did such songs need to be recorded again? Perhaps not, but at least there has been some evolution in the band’s arrangements of these well-loved and often-sung songs.
That’s not to say there aren’t more up to date songs featured. The band’s last single Search My Heart has been beautifully arranged and delivered by the band. A new version of Freedom is Here mixed in with Shout Unto God is similarly memorable.
As the DVD progresses, the band intersperse every few songs with behind the scenes footage. Black and white clips of everything from Joel Houston receiving guitar lessons to the band praying together are flashed before the viewer.
Scripture also appears during introductions to songs, emphasising the message the band are wanting to communicate.
Powerful drumming is a hallmark of this album. There’s even a drum solo halfway through the recording and the worship leaders often ditch their guitars in favour of hitting the nearest drum for all its worth.
But as well as the powerful, intense and euphoric highs we’ve come to expect from the Australian rockers, there are also quieter moments.
Avalanche perhaps best demonstrates Hillsong’s exceptional abilities in this area. The master of the worship power ballad, Hillsong church have previously given us Shout to the Lord and From the Inside Out. Nowadays the popular tunes are With Everything and final track Take Heart.
In a forthcoming interview with Christian.co.uk, singer JD revealed none of the vocals were overdubbed once the recording was taken back into the studio for post production.
This should have resulted in a raw sound. While the feel of Live in Miami is different from previous releases, there isn't a duff note to be found. If it’s true that not a single vocal was overdubbed, then the Hillsong team need to start giving vocal lessons to some of the world’s greatest pop stars. Perhaps their first seminar could be titled “how to jump up and down and run around the stage while remaining pitch perfect”?
One of the highlights of the DVD is Bones. The song starts with Joel Houston quietly playing guitar backstage, grinning into the camera. Another band member makes some keyboard sounds using nothing but an iPad and Hayley Law begins to sing: “You can take my dry bones / Breathe life into this skin”. It’s raw and honest.
But there’s another surprise to come as we hear the crowd’s voice start to sing along. Suddenly we’re back at the concert. It’s one of many impressively smooth transitions.
For all the accusations that are leveled at Hillsong, a DVD like this one does well to capture the band’s heart of worship. While the music is exceptional, there’s little showmanship. Watching the DVD, the viewer receives a genuine insight into the atmosphere that was created on the evening.
On top of this, there’s a couple of heartfelt and deep speeches from Joel Houston. It’s refreshing to see such a high energy band admit there’s no use in getting excited on one evening if it doesn’t effect your life practically the next day.
You don’t have to be a Hillsong fan to love this CD & DVD package. Songs like From The Inside Out and With Everything will grab you. For those impressed with the way the band have developed their art over the years, the DVD simply cannot be missed. Clocking in at over two hours long and featuring the best of the band’s music – both old and new – it’s difficult to ask for more.
Rating: 9 out of 10
March 9th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes