The New Beginnings Christian Center may well be-as it repeatedly claims-the church of the new millennium. This terraced chapel surrounded by television consoles boasts the Holy Grounds espresso bar and a multicultural crowd lured by both eternal salvation and cheap family entertainment. The center packages the essential blessings of Christianity in an all-singing, all-dancing theomercial spectacular.
On the Sunday in question, the show opened with a troupe of dayglo-clad jazzercisers (these believers, apparently, have not accepted earth tones into their lives) singing along to thudding, soulless R&B. A pastor followed, his fundraising efforts suggesting Scripture in the same way a Hard Rock Caf* outlet suggests CBGB's.
After some splendid break-dancing accompanied by the God-bothering swagger of Christian hip-hop, a few gals wiggled glow sticks to the strains of Madonna's "Music." Their chaste interpretation sent them to great lengths to avoid any potentially sexual gyration-a project as tricky and amusing as one might expect.
After all this tomfoolery, the rambling parables of MC Hammer seemed almost refreshing. Behind ever-present Versace shades and a frightening cascade of perspiration, Hammer teased the crowd with still-deft shoulder play and a rather hoarse rendition of an unfamiliar tune. But this was not Hammertime.
This wasn't music, for that matter. The newly and incoherently devout Hammer employs opening gospel acts as spiritual fluffers for his extended, bizarre rants. The theology of this once-popular recording star extends to naked greed and believably genuine hatred of musicians. Beyond the disturbing implications, though, those addled passions proved better theater than any straightforward concert.
Hammer's legacy remains a few pieces of nimble footwork, ill-fitting trousers and a masterful appropriation of Rick James' best. Sacrificing his once-palpable charisma at the altar of villainous televangelism seems a sad end for a platinum showman. Still, thou shalt not expect him to stop.
New Beginnings Christian CenterSunday, Aug. 25