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Big Venues and Band Squabbles 

Crossover Christian rockers Needtobreathe face the same issues that plague other popular bands

Success, obviously, has its perks—but it also brings a few challenges.

Needtobreathe discovered that firsthand in touring for its 2014 album, "Rivers In the Wasteland." As the venues got bigger, the group's show and performing style had to change with it.

 "The struggle or the difficulty of the last tour was, as the venues got bigger, you're playing to 7,000, 8,000 people, sometimes you didn't feel like you had that same intimacy with the people in the back as the front," singer/guitarist Bear Rinehart explained.

The venues aren't getting any smaller as Needtobreathe tours behind its new album, "Hardlove," from Aug. into Nov. The vast majority of the shows are in large arenas and outdoor amphitheaters—a sure sign of the group's popularity.

To help bring what happens on stage closer to fans sitting in the back, the group has added video to its show. Rinehart says he's learned to use bigger and more deliberate movements to better project his emotions in large venues.

Another challenge is deciding what to play—which will be even trickier on the current tour, because Needtobreathe is playing a slightly shorter set than usual.

"I would say this is the hardest set list we've ever had to make," Rinehart said. "When you've got this many records, six albums now, with three other bands on the bill besides us, it's like how many songs can you fit in in that period of time?"

Still, Needtobreathe is taking steps to pack as many songs as possible into the set.

"We're trying to do a few medleys and maybe shorter versions of songs," Rinehart said. "Let's give people a chance to sing along to the choruses they know. And then we're going to play a lot of the new record."

Don't get the idea, though, that Rinehart is complaining about the side effects of Needtobreathe's continued success, especially considering he's seen bigger problems.

Five years or so ago, Rinehart didn't know if Needtobreathe was even going to remain a band.

Formed in 2000 in Seneca, S.C. by Rinehart, his brother Bo Rinehart (guitar), Seth Bolt (bass) and Joe Stillwell (drums), the group made a quick impact in Christian music with its first two CDs, "Daylight" (2006) and "Heat" (2007).  With the 2009 album, "The Outsiders," that popularity began to expand to the mainstream market, as that album reached No. 20 on Billboard magazine's Top 200 album chart.

Then, the 2011 follow-up, "The Reckoning," hit No. 6 on the Billboard album chart and topped the magazine's Christian music and rock album charts.

But within the band, tensions between the Rinehart brothers were building to a boiling point. The two split songwriting duties, and rather than pushing them to write better songs, that competitive approach was corroding the brothers' relationship and the band's dynamic. Stillwell, in fact, left the group in 2012. (keyboardist Josh Lovelace completes the current lineup.)

"We were in different dressing rooms. We wouldn't talk much on show days. We were doing a lot more fighting than creating," Rinehart said "I think probably a lot of things contributed to (this), but I think the biggest thing is when you start seeing music as a means to an end, you start valuing the success of things or how many tickets you sold, whatever it is, over relationships or the reason that you do it. Then things are going to go bad."

Fortunately, Bear and Bo Rinehart realized their relationship as brothers was more important than Needtobreathe. What emerged was a far more supportive songwriting dynamic between the two brothers for "Rivers In the Wasteland." The brothers' relationship only improved further in making "Hardlove"—even though they evolved the band's sound notably on the album.

The melodic and punchy rock-pop sound of earlier albums remains, but where the earlier music was guitar-based, "Hardlove" brings more synthesizers and a far bigger synthetic sound into the mix. Songs like "Money & Fame" (with its faux horns and slick groove), the title track, (with a soulful vocal that fits with the big programmed beats and cascading synths in the tune), are prime examples of the new Needtobreathe sound.


Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 pm

Les Schwab Amphitheater,

344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr., Bend


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