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September 2, 2014

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It’s a long way from the Minidome and Nero’s Nook for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

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Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

The details might be a little murky, but I do recall the first time my parents “got funky.”

We were kids in Pocatello, Idaho, my brother and I. We had a baby-sitter one night so that Mom and Dad could see a band everyone was pretty excited about at the time. It was 5th Dimension, which had sold out the Idaho State University Minidome.

My folks came home that night, and they were not right.

They were dancing.

“Your father ran up onstage and danced with the 5th Dimension!” I remember Mom saying. This would be my introduction to the concept of rushing the stage. I think the song that led to this impromptu boogie woogie was “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which was burning up the radio in our AMC Matador sedan at the time.

I’ve remembered that time, for all time, and, all these years later, I found myself on the phone with 5th Dimension co-founders Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. They are still married (for 44 years now), still inherently cool and playing Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Thursday in a show benefiting AFAN — Aid for AIDS of Nevada (tickets are $35-$59 and available at the Smith Center website or by calling 749-2000).

The AFAN connection has been forged by AFAN supporter Glenn Alai, who is the longtime publicist and associate of Penn & Teller and has known McCoo and Davis for 25 years.

We start the conversation in an obvious way, with me recounting that long-ago night in southeastern Idaho.

“We played where?” Davis says.

“The Minidome in Pocatello,” I say.

“Who ever comes to Pocatello?” McCoo says.

“The 5th Dimension, in 1975!” I answer.

“Oh, my goodness!” McCoo says. “That is so beautiful!”

“That is a good thing!” Davis says, laughing.

McCoo and Davis are playing the Smith Center for the first time. But they have a history in the city dating to 1967, when the then-newly dubbed 5th Dimension (having just dropped its original name, The HiFis) was booked at Nero’s Nook at Caesars Palace.

“The first time we worked in Las Vegas, the lounge at Caesars Palace, and the 5th Dimesnsion came in, and at the time the Checkmates were burning up the place,” McCoo says. “We came in after they played there.”

“They were on fire, and everybody was telling us, ‘You guys can’t go in there behind The Checkmates! You’ll kill yourselves! You’ll flop!’ ” Davis says. “But we were saying, ‘Hey, we need to work!’ We were just cocky enough to think we could do it, you know, and we blew the place away just like they were doing it. It was a great time. We took a real chance because The Checkmates were so great.”

Forty-seven years later, McCoo and Davis are bringing a multifaceted show to Cabaret Jazz, beginning with the “must” songs.

“Well, you will be hearing 5th Dimension hits,” McCoo says.

“Definitely so,” Davis says. “We learned a long time ago that we can’t do a show …

“Without doing 5th Dimension songs,” McCoo finishes. “We did a show called ‘It Takes Two,’ featuring all of the great duets through the years, so we focused on that music and didn’t do 5th Dimension music. Boy, did we hear back about that.”

“We got beat up for that one,” Davis says. “We learned very quickly that when people come to hear us, there are certain songs they expect to hear, and we better give them to them. We understand that because when we go see an artist, we want to hear the songs we remember, that moved us and made us happy.”

However …

“We do plan some curve balls,” McCoo says. “Billy will be singing some blues, which he is great at. There will be some jazz in the show, which people will be surprised at.”

“We’ll be singing some of the music from our own youth, before 5th Dimension,” Davis says. “When 5th Dimension hit, we hit at such a ‘pop’ level that it was a long time before we could sing songs of our background, what we listened to growing up and made us want to go into music and want to become singers.”

McCoo adds, “People will hear a 5th Dimension influence in everything we do, but that is our own input and the influence from the others in the group. We have reached the point where we are kind of influenced by our own music, as well as the music of others.”

The couple will be backed by a four-piece band. There will be no splashy light show, no freewheeling choreography and, we say in a melancholy way, no rushing of the stage.

“This is all about music,” McCoo says.

“It’s about our music,” Davis says, “and the music we love.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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