CENTRAL FLORIDA REVIEW

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PENTATONIX @ HARD ROCK LIVE (ORLANDO); 3/25/14
03/25/2014

(Orlando FL) Penatatonix performed to a sold out Hard Rock Live venue at Universal Studios' CityWalk complex on Tuesday March 25, 2014. For tonight's concert-goers,we had to wait in line before entering the venue. The line looked more like the queue from the neighboring Harry Potter ride at Islands of Adventure, being so long it didn't seem possible that the Hard Rock venue would be able to accommodate so many people. But, with aspiring singers and a cappella quartets in the line singing aloud seemingly hoping to be 'discovered', I knew that I was waiting in the right place.

Before the show began, I had an opportunity to speak to some of the people around me. I had the family of four to my left, whose parents had informed me that their children were actually the bigger Pentatonix fans than they themselves were, but that they had all been watching the group closely as it progressed through NBC's 'The Sing Off (season 3)'. I had the young psychology student from south Florida to my back right, there with her boyfriend. I had the nice lady from Tampa close by. Just a little further away was another young couple, who I believe knew more about my camera than I did. I thought, 'Hmmmm. This is a really diverse group around me. Pentatonix has certainly appealed to the masses to attract such a broad variety of attendees.

The stage was 'hidden' by a large sheer curtain. As soon as there appeared to be movement behind the curtain, the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. Pentatonix took the stage just a few minutes after 7 pm. Performing below the 'PTX' backdrop they came out singing to a Daft Punk compilation. I was pretty impressed with how in tune they were. In one of their earlier performances on 'The Sing Off', BoyzIIMen's Shawn Stockman had commented about Pentatonix bassist, Avi Kaplan, and how difficult it was for a bass to sing well, but how much more difficult it was for that bass to be on point when tasked with choreographed stepping requirements. Avi looks like a very 'normal' guy. However, when he spoke to the crowd in between songs, it was amazing to hear the depth of bass that his voice had. Also, during his solo he demonstrated 'overtone singing', whereby he essentially sang 2 separate notes at the same time (you may just want to YouTube him doing this because it's pretty difficult to explain, but awesome to hear!). For myself, this was the first time I'd ever heard of this type of singing, and the audience appeared mesmerized by this sound that apparently not many in the audience had ever heard.
The other notable pure solo came from Kevin 'KO' Olusola, the beat-boxer of the group. Kevin brings a very special dynamic to the group. In addition to his beat-boxing, he is a very accomplished cellist. One could have been very content watching his cello-playing or his beat-boxing separate from the other -- however, to see someone do both at such a high-caliber, it was a mid-blowing experience, really. I was very happy to have the opportunity to actually hear Kevin's singing voice at the tail end of the quintet's cover of 'Say Something' where the crowd went wild as closed out the song.

'Say Something' was a great cover in each singer had an opportunity to have a minor solo. Ultimately, however, it was Kirstie Maldonado, who carried the majority of this song. Maldonado's voice was hypnotic, captivating, and honest. The innocence of Kirstie's voice evoked very powerful emotions throughout the song as the audience became drawn into the pain she conveyed throughout this song. The arrangement made me think a lot of a group from way back when called 'The Cranberries'. I'm thinking if Pentatonix could cover 'Ode to My Family' (by The Cranberries) as it could be a very powerful statement given the apparent familial closeness of this group.
I must compliment the group's song choices and vocal arrangements. They didn't choose any songs tonight that a regular a cappella group would normally sing. There were no BoyzIIMen / NSYNC / Backstreet Boys covers tonight -- in fact, they chose several currently popular hits, which can prove to be a very gutsy move, but in my opinion they flipped the song so much that it seemed more like their own song rather than a cover. On this night, they covered Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Mackelmore -- and they covered the songs well. But to exemplify my earlier point regarding the arrangements, one of tonight's songs was a cover of Lorde's 'Royals'. What could have been a rather obvious choice of having Kirstie lead, the group opted for Mitch Grassi to take point: a choice that further highlighted their ability to showcase the strengths of their group rather than just sing for the sake of covering another song. Mitch has a very high register and I am a big fan of his. I was a bit surprised though because Mitch is showcased heavily in the YouTube videos for the group, but he wasn't really highlighted until the end of tonight's concert. Mitch sings with heavy emotion and his wonderful facial expressions during most of the songs kept the audience pretty engaged for the night.

And then there was Scott. Scott Hoying, fittingly, is the glue that held the group together tonight -- 'fitting' in the sense that he was part of the original trio of the group, he came up with the group's name, and he was the one to pull Avi into the group. There were no weaknesses in tonight's performance, but where gaps may have existed between 2 singers, Scott was the part to connect the 2 in seamless fashion. Imagine a vocal 'lead guitar' and you have Scott.
I was very pleased with tonight's performance. The only thing I would recommend for them going forward is that they have more general dialogue in between songs. For example, the group visited one of the theme parks upon arrival into Orlando (as posted on their Twitter account), and it would have made the crowd go even more wild than they already were, had they heard the group speak about their adventures in central Florida. Tonight's performance, though, definitely justified that long line I saw when I arrived. Great job Penatatonix!