Handel never composed anything called the "Young Messiah," but that's what was on the bill at the Patriot Center Saturday night. Selections from "Messiah" were performed by some of the biggest names in Christian pop, accompanied by a mostly prerecorded musical score, though there was a token orchestra alongside the cross-shaped stage. The music included triggered drum samples that turned "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" into a dance hit for the sellout crowd, described as "informal and contemporary" by the public address system.
The almost 200-strong chorus was seen moving its lips, but the obviously taped vocal augmentation was jarring. Also unnerving was Phil Keaggy's pop-metal guitar solo during "Surely He Hath Borne Our Grief." This is how you update timeless music? Keaggy proved to have the least interesting voice during his vocal solo "He Was Despised," while the evening's stars, Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patti, proved throughout the show that they have pipes worthy of the crowd's applause. When Patti sang "Behold the Lamb of God," the drums were finally unplugged and she shook the room.
Before the adaptation of Handel's best-known work, there was a program of inspirational and Christmas songs. Harris's soulful "Amen" closed out that half of the show with the crowd on its feet, but couldn't erase the memory of Russ Taff's overwrought vocals on a horribly reharmonized "jazz-lite" version of "Silent Night."
A great idea, bringing those stuffy old classics to a new audience, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.