Last Thursday night I was at the Mandela Hall in Belfast for the first of two sold out gigs by local band Rend Collective. The Mandela Hall has a capacity of 1000 people, and to sell it out twice was an impressive feat for a Christian band, as many of the secular bands that play there still have tickets left on the door. As it happened, Thursday was the warmest day of the year so far in Belfast, so it was a hot and sweaty room, filled with a fairly young crowd kitted out in Hollister tops aplenty.
Over the last few years Rend’s popularity has just grown and grown, and while technically they are from Bangor just down the road, after being away touring America for a local time there was a real sense that this was a homecoming gig. Tenth Avenue North put in a good effort as the support act, but everyone was here for Rend. And they didn’t disappoint.
The whole theme of this tour (which is continuing across the UK and later in the year will be in America) is Celebration. Rend are a band that don’t play by the rules – as shown by the fact that support act Tenth Avenue North were introduced by a member of Rend Collective (when has a headliner introduced their support act before?) and lead singer Gareth spoiling the “surprise” that there would be a encore after the ‘last song’. They mainly played songs off their latest album, The Art of Celebration and occasionally dipped into their back catalogue for a few crowd favourites. It all kicked off with Joy, which initially started slowly but soon burst into life with a confetti cannon really getting the party started. The lively unique folk-revival-celebration style of music that Rend are known for continued with Burn like a fire, then it was time for arguably their most popular song, the folk anthem Build Your Kingdom Here which got the crowd bouncing, and later turned into a prayer for the city.
This was a very fast paced gig with the band all moving about and getting into the songs and it being clear that they were all genuinely worshipping and playing from a place of joy. There was no going through the motions. Dressed in ultra-hipster suits (they joked about buying out the local Topshop that afternoon) and giving it their all on a hot evening, sweat was pouring off them. But they didn’t hold back. And neither did the crowd who were passionately singing along to every song, clapping, jumping and worshipping too.
One thing that stood out was how almost everyone in the band took a go drumming – at times two at once, and during Immeasurably More (which started with some sick bass…) 4 were drumming at once.
For several songs (You bled and Simplicity) a more stripped back approach was used similar to the Campfire album, with a request for everyone to put away phones and cameras during Simplicity which allowed for more focus on the song.
As well as singing there were several short talks – Pat did a talk on behalf of Compassion and Gareth gave a talk about the joy and celebration that comes from being free from condemnation. Impressively they also made a point of acknowledging there were non-Christians present and inviting them to come to the place of celebration before the throne of God too, which was good as while this was not an evangelistic event Rend’s musical excellence is such that it was not an exclusively Christian crowd present, which is a great testament to the quality of music they produce.
Rend Collective put on a great live show, if you are a fan of Mumford & Sons you will find plenty here to enjoy. My only disappointment was they didn’t play more of their older songs (but I wouldn’t have wanted any of the newer ones dropped to make room…). I have seen a fair few bands in my time (Christian and non-Christian) and I have to say this rates right up there amongst the best concerts I have been at. If you get a chance to see them live, take it!
(Many thanks to Paul McNeilly at FuelEvents for a press pass. I was under no obligation to write a positive review)