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REVIEW: Rock standards formal affair at River City Men's Chorus show

Don't think of The Beat Goes On as a rock concert. Think of it as a collection of rock music transposed to a more formal genre.

The performance, named for the 1967 Sonny & Cher chart-topper, reveals a seldom-seen side of River City Men's Chorus. As showcased Sunday at the unlikely rock venue of Little Rock's Second Presbyterian Church, the acclaimed 50-member chorus shows it can handle just about any musical genre, including memory-inscribed pop hits.

But it's clear from the moment the singers appear -- in formal attire -- that the material's conversational tone doesn't quite fit the setting. It's hard for a precision ensemble to render the slurry phrasing of Alex Chilton's "The Letter" or the famously garbled syntax of "Louie, Louie." All you can do is smile and enunciate.

Under the crisp direction of conductor David Glaze, the two-hour production opened with John Mellencamp's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." (a tribute to '60s music released, to be persnickety, in 1985). It's mildly discomforting to hear this and other foot-tappers from the likes of the Beach Boys, the Temptations, the Supremes and Creedence Clearwater Revival in this context. With little room in choral arrangements for improvised flourishes, the audience must content itself with flawless, evenly paced harmonies accompanied by tempered instrumentation (horns, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards) while reminiscing about what these songs meant to them at first hearing decades ago.

That said, creative touches included finger-snapping to replace the bass opening notes of "The Beat Goes On" and vocalise instead of lyrics (there are none) on Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther." A witty version of the Troggs' "Wild Thing," in strict 4/4 time, would suit a marching band in a halftime show. Best adaptation to the concert format (and Sunday's blustery weather): the Mamas and the Papas' hazily harmonic "California Dreamin'."

The Beat Goes On again at 7 p.m. today and Thursday at Second Presbyterian Church, 600 Pleasant Valley Drive, Little Rock. Admission is free. Doors open one hour ahead; concerts start when all seats are filled. For more information, call (501) 377-1080 or visit rivercitymenschorus.com.

Metro on 04/16/2018

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