I’ll be honest — I initially feared I was in for an unbearably saccharine evening when Saturday night’s Jason & deMarco concert at Veritas United Church of Christ in Hagerstown, Md., opened with the duo — partners in music and life — walking down the aisle, crooning “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” each holding one of their toddler-aged twin sons.
The gay Christian pop act (interviewed here), in their first appearances in the region since playing Capital Pride in 2008, played MCC-D.C. Friday night, Veritas on Saturday and were scheduled to be in both Frederick and Bethesda, Md., Sunday. This fall leg of their “Celebrating Diversity Tour,” finds them traveling the country with their young sons, Jason’s parents, their inspirational — but not too heavy handed — music and a message of love, dreaming big, LGBT inclusion and marital commitment.
Though it flirted occasionally with being too sugary, the evening was thoroughly redeemed by two points. First, context. The church they were at is less than a mile from a shopping area that has a Christian bookstore in the same shopping center as Target, a Hobby Lobby craft supply mega-store that’s so fundamentalist its owners think bar codes are Satanic, and a Chick-fil-A. In a region so rampant with traditional, conservative (i.e. anti-gay) brands of Christianity, that Jason & deMarco were even there, was a bit of a miracle. New church Veritas, which meets at Church of the Holy Trinity, is a bastion of gay-friendly light in a highly conservative area. Jason & deMarco’s music and message are refreshing enough in and of themselves but in that context, both took on added significance.
Second, the two guys are sorely underrated as singers. They’re not just decent singers — they’re both showstoppers easily in the league of Michael Buble or Clay Aiken. Throughout a nearly 90-minute set of standards, covers, praise and worship ditties and more, they lavishly showered their big, brassy, precisely pitched-and-harmonized vocals all over the space. Over the course of a 10-year-plus career, they never made much of a splash outside the gay umbrella (the mainstream can handle one gay performer at a time, but two perhaps, is a bit much it appears), but talent wise they’re on a par with the best male pop singers around.
Standouts were a shiver-inducing a cappella rendition of the classic hymn “In the Garden,” a lovely (and faithful) rendition of the worship standard “How Great is Our God” and a funky, soulful take on U2’s “One.” Only John Lennon’s chestnut “Imagine” felt out of place. While tastefully performed, it’s anti-religion sentiments — even in a setting as free-thinking as this — were slightly jarring.
Their set was:
1. Twinkle Twinkle/First Love
2. In the Garden (with Jason’s mom)
3. How Great is Our God (Chris Tomlin cover)
4. The Prayer
5. I Will Bless the Lord at All Times
6. Breathe (Michael W. Smith cover)
8. Imagine (John Lennon cover)
9. You Are Loved
10. One (U2 cover)
11. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel cover)