Home sweet dome 

It's a Twilight Zone-type premise: A band visits a different city every night, but the venue is always exactly the same. Everything about the building -- from the stage design to the contours to the acoustics -- remains constant regardless of its geographic location. However, in the case of the Newsboys, who are living this scenario, there's a simple explanation for this Groundhog Day effect: The group tours with an enormous inflatable arena, equipped with a million watts of lighting and 150,000 watts of quadraphonic sound. Well, maybe "simple" isn't the right word.

"The cool thing about it is it just creates its own environment," explains singer Peter Furler about the arena, which was first introduced at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. "It's a building that no one's ever been in before, because there's only two of them in the world, and we own them." (One of the arenas is sent to the next night's destination to be assembled while the band plays in the other.) "The amazing thing about it is you get 3,500 people packed into the thing and it's comfortable, and there's not a bad seat in the house. Normally, you'd be in an arena, and there would be people back behind the sound console 150 feet away. With this thing, no one's more than 30 or 40 feet away."

From the Newsboys, a band known for, among other live-performance exploits, descending from the ceiling on flying saucers and using an elevated drum kit that turns its inhabitant upside down, the portable arena experiment might seem as if it's just the next natural step on the showmanship scale. However, the dome serves another purpose by providing a physical manifestation for the themes of the group's latest album, Love Liberty Disco. Because of the conspicuous nature of the dome, which is often set up in crowded areas, such as mall parking lots (or "car-parks," as Furler charmingly calls them in a thick accent unaffected by the Australian-born singer's years of residence in Nashville), bystanders unfamiliar with this Christian band might purchase a ticket for a concert just to experience the circuslike spectacle. Furler says this melting-pot effect, which is a rarity in the Christian-music genre given that bands rarely advertise their concerts and appearances in the secular media, epitomizes the album's lyrical content.

"It's about love, family, respect, and unity," Furler says. "No matter who anyone is and what they believe, whether they have the same beliefs as us or not, it's not us versus them, it's everyone is someone, and everybody counts. Rock is growing old, and what used to divide families now unites them. Mothers and daughters might not go to the mall together, but they'll go out to see the same band. Under that dome, you've got fans of all ages, and you've got people from different denominations of churches that might not usually come together. There's a family that follows us, and it might not be perfect, but it's our family."

This explanation clears up the "love" and "liberty" components of the album's title, but there's another story as to why "disco" was included. It wasn't because the album sounds like a Bee Gees tribute -- the title track is the only '70s flavored tune on the album -- although Furler says the band's members share an affection for disco. And it wasn't entirely because the group discovered in its control room a picture, taken in Honduras, of a building emblazoned with "Love Liberty Disco" in giant black letters, although that photo is featured on the album's back cover. Furler says that for him, "disco" means an extension of the unity theme.

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