Michael W. Smith is choosing the cross over the crossover on his current tour.
Smith is second only to Amy Grant in Christian pop crossover appeal to secular audiences, and his concert Friday night at the Pond of Anaheim had all the trappings of a big, mainstream-pop arena show, including a large-screen backdrop for video images.
But the intent was clearly to gather the flock, not to expand Smith's audience demographic. His medium, as ever, was the polished pop ballad and the moderately rocking anthem.
The two-hour set included his two early-'90s pop crossover hits, "Place in This World" and "I Will Be Here for You," but it was telling that the climactic anthem, "I'll Lead You Home" (the title track of his latest album), turned into an on-screen tribute to the Rev. Billy Graham.
The Christian iconography on the screen had a lot to do with making this a show primarily for believers. A secular fan might be drawn to Smith's voice--a nasal, thin, but tuneful one that compares with Jackson Browne's--and to his almost unerring knack for catchy melodies. But in this setting, there was no finessing the specifically Christian message in favor of the music and the general emotional tenor of struggle, comfort or celebration.
With his Adonis looks and golden ear for tunes, the pop mainstream figures to be within Smith's reach if he's so inclined. For now, he has turned music and video to a religious purpose in a way so deftly presented that Graham himself might be impressed.
Second-billed Jars of Clay, riding high with the MTV hit "Flood," came off like an acoustic-rock equivalent of Live. The young band was in over its head at the Pond, but its searching, introspective cast and its insinuating weave of guitars, organ and rich harmonies might well envelop and enthrall a club.