For fans of contemporary Christian music, seeing Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith walk out onstage together arm-in-arm was a bit like a mirage – except that it was real.
It’s been more than 20 years since these two friends shared a stage for an official outing, and on Friday night at Chastain Park Amphitheater, they both exemplified why their careers have been so durable.
Starting off with a handful of songs together, including a lovely acoustic-centric version of “Stay For Awhile” and “Find a Way,” which they wrote together in 1985, Grant and Smith exuded a comfortable vibe, the kind that comes from decades of friendship and long hours trapped in recording studios.
Though it was difficult to get comfortable at Chastain on this deathly humid night, Grant, in a black sundress and bare feet, quickly diffused the audience’s seeming lack of interest with a quip.
“We’re dying out here, aren’t we?” she joked, likely about the heat.
The audience spent most of the three-hour show (including a 20-minute intermission) waving makeshift fans and gulping liquids – one generous table of women at the front of the stage passed Grant a glass of white wine – and occasionally jumping to their feet for some well-deserved ovations.
Grant’s solo set came first, and for about 45 minutes, she and her seven-piece band – including her strikingly pretty step-daughter Jenny Gill on background vocals — exported pristine versions of her meaningful pop songs.
Whether it was the pensive “Saved By Love” the still-glossy “Baby Baby” or the triumphant “Better Than a Hallelujah,” Grant’s voice rang clear and strong, with note-perfect purity.
Early in her set, as the crowd was still shuffling into the half-full venue, she surveyed the scene and said, in typically, uh, unguarded fashion (and with a wry smile), “There was a time when I packed Chastain, but those days are over.” She quickly followed up the self-deprecating zinger by adding, “I’d show up even if there was only one table here.”
A highlight of Grant’s set, during which she played an acoustic guitar emblazoned with the word “Love” and always looked incredibly happy while singing, was “El Shaddai,” which she emoted with little background instrumentation. The contemplative rendition was marred only by the usual Chastain rudeness of rustling food wrappers and inane conversation.
Smith bounded back to the stage to help Grant tackle the epic “Lead Me On,” the meatiest track in her extensive catalog. Though the song’s range seemed to push Grant vocally, Gill and fellow backup singer Kim Keyes ably stepped in for the highest notes, keeping the song’s potency intact.
After the intermission, the eternally handsome Smith, clad in jeans and a black T-shirt, took the stage for a solo instrumental on his keyboard, but was soon joined again by Grant for the most intimate part of the show. With many smiles, they shared stories about meeting and writing certain tunes, including “Angels” and “Faithless Heart,” one of Grant’s most deeply personal songs.
They swapped tales of their respective children heading off to college and Grant, 50, performed Smith’s sweetly melancholy ode to his daughter, “How to Say Goodbye,” which ended with the longtime friends hugging.
Grant departed the stage, leaving Smith (aka “Smitty”) and his four-piece band to crank through the beautiful textures of “Secret Ambition” and “Rocketown,” its mélange of key changes a melodic feast.
Though Smith, 53, has always been a better composer than a singer – he tends to turn nasally – his voice contains a lot of character, whether slightly straining through “Place in This World,” his breakthrough pop hit, or dabbling in an impromptu version of “Georgia on My Mind.”
In recent years, Smith’s music has leaned more heavily toward worship songs, and “Mighty to Save” saw many in the all-ages crowd singing along and swaying their hands above.
Throughout the show, both Grant and Smith repeatedly expressed gratitude at the success of their careers and the influence each has had on the other. Their relationship is an anomaly in music, either Christian or secular, and the fact that it’s still a viable and creative coupling decades on is the truest testament to friendship.
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For more on Amy Grant: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-music/amy-grant-and-michael-1051381.html