Metcalf Auditorium played host Saturday night to the “Beary Keys,” the pithily named annual holiday performance put on by the Bear Necessities and the Higher Keys.
As the “Beary” half of the Beary Keys, the Bear Necessities described themselves as “Brown’s only all-male, all-suspendered a cappella group, and we love it.” The Higher Keys call themselves “Brown’s oldest all-gender a cappella group” with a repertoire comprised of jazz, pop and R&B.
Indeed, Saturday’s performance demonstrated the fruits of an organic and endearing partnership, as the “Beary Keys” proved to be a conclusively pleasant affair. After a rather uninspired opening, the show found its stride and peaked with a collaborative production of a “God Rest Ye’ Merry Gentleman” / “Carol of the Bells” medley.
The Bear Necessities — yes, decked out in suspenders — kicked off the proceedings with an understated performance of “Carry on My Wayward Son.” It was admittedly off-putting to begin what was billed as a holiday show with a minimalist rendition of the Kansas rock classic. The attire didn’t help matters either, as only one member of the group managed to procure a Santa hat.
The Higher Keys took the stage next, wearing a simple array of red and black (with one member donning a stray pair of reindeer antlers). The Keys opened with an adaptation of Charlie Brown’s “Christmas Time is Here,” a curious choice given the song’s dreary tone. However, a brief solo scat performance at the end of the song seemed to wake both the show and audience from their stupor. Indeed, the Keys followed with a downright impish rendition of the classic Christmas duet, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” While not the strongest harmonic performance, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was refreshingly entertaining, engaging and self-aware in its silliness. The Keys even included a cheeky nod to Ella Fitzgerald’s famous “Mack The Knife” gaffe, as they pretended (I think?) to bungle and forget the lyrics to the second half of the song.
Taking their cue from the Keys, the Bears returned with a stronger and livelier second act. After an entertaining first tune, they pulled from the more religiously-oriented tradition of Christmas carols, singing a birth of Christ anthem that was immediately the concert’s most harmonically precise and elegant performance.
The Keys began their second act with Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Keys president Rebecca Cheng ’18 proved to be a stirring triumph as the solo voice in the a cappella adaptation. Her hauntingly beautiful performance evoked the somber nostalgia that provides the emotional undercurrent to the holiday season.
As expected, the “Beary Keys” concluded with a collaboration between the two groups. The aforementioned medley opened subtly before revealing its more energetic character, replete with feet stamping and a beatboxing performance. The Bears and Keys fit neatly together, with alto and soprano voices floating over a baritone foundation that displayed real substance and depth. The medley delighted the audience, providing a rising conclusion to a largely mature and successful concert. I left the auditorium with only one question unanswered — what took “Beary Keys” so long to get going?