Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Ellen Gerig, known to those who love Southern Gospel videos on YouTube as “Psalm of Praise.” After she sent several links to song videos from a Signature Sound concert last week, I asked if she would consider writing a review to accompany the videos. She graciously obliged!
When Ian Owens stepped out on stage for the first time with Ernie, Devin, and Doug on January 21, 2011, in Portland, Oregon, I was privileged to be there.
I was also privileged to hear them in the same venue a year later on January 20, 2012.
But it wasn’t without a bit of dis-incentive on the way! I was barely into the 70+-mile journey when, on I-5, a truck in the other lane kicked up some pieces of metal. They thankfully weren’t “heavy metal”, but I was not able to swerve or slow down due to traffic and had to just go with the blows. The battle scar from that encounter was the new paint on my bumper getting scraped and gouged down through to the subsurface. Then as I was rounding about the last street corner before arriving at the church, there must have been an object in the travel lane that I hit. I felt a little sidewise jolt to the car and heard a disconcerting “pop”. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the car behind me stop at the same location where I had felt the jolt, and then pull off at a curb cut (one that I had missed, or I would have pulled off there, also). Apparently they had either seen or encountered the same mysterious object that I had! As we were only a block or so from the church and the doors had opened already, I decided it would be more prudent to just go on to the church. Where the jolt had occurred was four lanes intersecting four lanes, with dividers in the middle, etc., so it would have taken a considerable amount of time to go back and find a place to park and investigate further. Anyway, after arriving at the church I discovered that a panel in front of the passenger-side rear tire was broken and had a bolt missing. Inspection of the offending street corner after the concert revealed nothing out of the ordinary, but whatever had been there had probably long since been removed.
When we walked into the church, the balcony was not open for concert-goers, much to my disappointment—and surprise. Last year even the balcony had been filled to nearly overflowing. I usually prefer a front-row balcony seat in large churches for better visibility. But in a couple minutes the offending rope on the stairway was removed, and my friend and I had prime front-row balcony seating!
The balcony never came close to being filled, however, and it was obvious that the crowd was not as big as it had been the year before. However, western Oregon was just emerging from one of the biggest floods in years, and the Columbia River Gorge (one of two primary routes into Portland from the east) was coping with snow, ice, and freezing rain—I-84 through the Gorge having been closed at least part of the day due to those very factors, and almost preventing Ernie Haase & Signature Sound from getting into town! In fact, their concert the night before in Pasco, Washington, had been canceled due to weather complications. I imagine that there were some people who would have been at the concert but were dealing with flooding aftermath, or perhaps couldn’t even get into town safely if they were coming in from the east.
It wasn’t until several days after the concert that there was mention made of my writing a review—so I was not even making any particular mental notes. I was more focused on (no pun intended) simply enjoying the evening, and grabbing some photos and videos by which to remember and relive the concert, and to share with my friends. Those of you who know me know that my powers of recollection of recent events and of chronology are not always the most stellar!
From my balcony vantage point I saw Ernie doing some meeting and greeting in the crowd on the ground floor level before the concert—a genuine smile and handshake and a few words with different individuals who were seated reachably near the aisle. The other members may have been doing that also, but as I wasn’t truly taking notes, I do not recall if that was the case or not. I also know that even the band members were available at the product table after the concert; this is one group that is available to their fans.
The usual pre-concert, in-audience product pitch/sales took place, also—this is the third time that I recall EH&SS selling pre-packaged four-item bundles for $20 directly to the seated crowd. I think the bundle consisted of one DVD and three CDs, but as I was busying myself otherwise during the pitch, I don’t recall for sure. Since these items are generally not their newest releases, I have either most or all of them already so do not avail myself of the special. But it seems to be an effective sales maneuver, and I would imagine that it also helps to keep the shopping crowd down to a manageable size at the product table at intermission and after the concert. They ARE popular, after all!
One of the first songs (maybe it WAS the first?) they sang was “Stand By Me”—one of the (if not THE) first big hit(s) for EH&SS. This was originally a song that Tim Duncan (former bass for the group) had “owned”, but now Ian has integrated well enough and has shown himself capable of filling some pretty big shoes—and did a very good job at holding down the bass line. There has been a lot of naysaying and negative commentary about the most recent personnel change in the group—and although Ian is not Tim, he brings a lot of good qualities to the stage. My opinion is that Ian is fully capable, sounds great, and is doing a wonderful job. I am not as thoroughly analytical as many of the active commenters here; I tend to simply know what I like and what I don’t like. And I like Ian. I also very much liked Tim. No two singers are going to sound alike, and “life happens”—including the inevitable personnel changes.
A few songs from the Cathedrals’ vault were pulled out, and I thoroughly enjoyed those. Last year’s tour featured songs that had been mainstreamed by the Cathedrals, and I truly hope those never are relegated to the archives. The Cathedrals knew good songs and set the standard in many ways for southern gospel as we know it today. It is a good thing—and an honor to the Cathedrals—for them to be emulated.
Their multi-talented producer and keyboardist, Wayne Haun, was featured on a couple songs, also.
I enjoyed everything that was sung, but there are two standouts in my mind. The first is the nearly-acappella rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”. Wayne Haun joined in to help create some particularly full and pleasing harmonies at the end. The second was the driving “Any Other Man”. The tempo wasn’t so fast, but the passion and the compelling guitar draws one in. I had seen some commentary on a previous post here likening it to the sound of the Imperials in the 80s, I have to concur wholeheartedly. I loved that sound—and I love it now (in fact, it made me realize how I miss the Imperials of the 80s!!)… Some might call it rock—but it doesn’t strike me as being a truly rock song. The mostly-senior crowd in attendance loved it!
Yes, there was some of the always-debated “choreography” and non-mainstream-southern-gospel attire. This year the “look” was subdued in some ways from what EH&SS has portrayed in the past. The guys had donned matching dark suits and white shirts. The short ties that EH&SS fans have come to expect were present, but the ties were matching, solid, dark, and more narrow than I recall having seen in the past. Tie clips were worn very high on the tie. Black and white canvas Converse shoes were their footwear of choice. Given that I have never found a dress shoe for myself and my funky feet that is comfortable—not even flats–I value comfort over style any day, and unconventional stage footwear doesn’t bother me if I think it looks comfortable for the wearer! And that those Converse looked! I believe that EH&SS does not intend to be the same as every other quartet out there, and that is their prerogative. I do have a feeling that as Ernie gets a few more years under his belt, there may be a bit of an evolution of clothing and choreography toward the conservative. And personally, the choreography and attire “twists” are basically neither here nor there with me. At times they can be distracting, but not so much so that I can’t enjoy the concert! I think I simply find it more intriguing than anything.
Ernie Haase’s vocals had never impressed me much in his Cathedrals days, nor in the early days of EH&SS. He tended to flat way too often. I’ll admit, however, that I have an ear that is probably hyper-tuned to hear such things. But it made some of his singing difficult to listen to—including up to the first of the two “Vintage” recordings that were made (I’ve not heard the second one, so cannot speak for it, however). However, Ernie has been improving his game—and I am very pleased to say that there was nothing difficult for me to listen to pitch-wise last Friday night! Those guys have a tight, professional sound that I could listen to a lot!
Many groups need to take a lesson from EH&SS; they have the audience clap along on 2 and 4! Imagine that! It seems that most groups have the clap-alongs on 1 and 3 (even some of my very favorite groups that should know better 🙂 ), which is boring and miserable for me. And on the rare song that is in ¾ time, EH&SS have the clap-alongs on the 2 and 3. MAJOR kudos for that!!! That elevates them a star right there!
My recommendation is to go hear Ernie and the guys if you have the opportunity. It will set you back a bit financially; they bring a full band (four members) and stage backdrops and lighting. So, if you are expecting a freewill offering and/or a subdued presentation it might not be for you—but if you want to hear some mighty good singing and don’t mind a professional presentation that doesn’t remain strictly within the confines of conservative southern gospel, and you can part with a bit of cash (this concert was $25), then by all means go! 🙂