If anyone deserves a big, fancy arena concert filled with bells and whistles, it’s God, right? That’s the idea behind the King’s Men concert tour, featuring Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Sapp and Israel Houghton.
The 16-city tour, which came to Verizon Center on Saturday night, is a game-changer, as it gives gospel music a big-budget live show treatment — lighting effects! pre-taped video vignettes! special guests! — usually reserved for pop shows. The result is something like attending a rousing, energetic, three-and-a-half-hour worship service at the biggest megachurch in the country.
The mix of talent is groundbreaking, too: Franklin blurs the line between secular music and gospel; McClurkin is more traditional; Sapp leans traditional but with a contemporary R&B twist; and Houghton bridges the cultural gap between the soulful sound of gospel and the more rock-leaning contemporary Christian music movement.
Houghton called himself “one of the king’s men in training” but didn’t seem like an apprentice based on the crowd’s response to “Again I Say Rejoice” and “Not Forgotten.” Franklin joked about being the only non-singer among the four, but the musician/songwriter couldn’t diminish the importance of his huge repertoire of songs (“Imagine Me,” “Melodies From Heaven”) spanning 20 years.
McClurkin turned the entire arena into a church choir, as it helped him sing “I Call You Faithful” and “Great Is Your Mercy,” which was preceded by a video clip of Oprah Winfrey saying that the song brought her to her knees.
Sapp, who lost his wife to cancer in 2010, told the crowd in a brief video statement that it has been a struggle but that “every day aboveground is a good day.” He then performed a moving version of “My Testimony” from his new album, “I Win,” with pictures of his wife and children projected onto the big screen behind him.
The men saved their best-known material — everything from Sapp’s “The Best in Me” to McClurkin’s “Stand” — for a joint performance at the end of the night. And after it was all over, they rejected applause and praise, insisting that it go instead to God: “You are the celebrity, the VIP, the headliner, and we are your groupies. You deserve a standing ovation!” Franklin said, finger pointed to the sky.