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Review: Pentatonix at Verizon Theatre

03/30/2015 10:44 AM 03/30/2015 10:44 AM

Every time Pentatonix started a new song — every time Mitch Grassi hit a really high note, or Avi Kaplan hit a really low one, or one or more of the group members executed a cool little bit of choreography — a chorus of screams arose from the audience at the group’s show Sunday night at Verizon Theatre.

But that’s to be expected — concert audiences are programmed to scream when they see something they like. What’s more unusual is for an act to get a crowd to be absolutely quiet, as Pentatonix did when it performed an off-season That’s Christmas to Me as one of its encores — completely off the mic in front of a reported 7,000 people at Verizon.

This was the a cappella group’s purest expression of unaccompanied vocal music, and although maybe a solo line here or there was difficult to pick up, the choral parts were loud and clear at least halfway up the auditorium. And it was just one of many ways that the group showed how much it’s learned to work an audience in the three years and change since it won NBC’s The Sing-Off in late 2011.

The show was a homecoming of sorts for Grassi, Scott Hoying and Kirstin Maldonado — they’re from Arlington, not Grand Prairie, but GP is close enough, and Hoying recalled seeing concerts at the venue, including Jason Mraz, for whom Hoying sat in the far upper reaches of Verizon (or whatever it happened to be called at the time).

This time it was Hoying and his group playing to the back of the crowd — and to the front, with all five (including beatboxer Kevin Olusola) leaving the stage during a cover of the Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney hit FourFiveSeconds to serenade and high-five the front section of the crowd. Flipping that around, they brought a woman out of the audience during a version of Let’s Get it On — she proved to be a good sport as the group sang to her, with Hoying and Kaplan each taking a turn sitting on her lap.

All of these concert tricks were fun, but it’s still Pentatonix’s singing that makes the show — the individual contributions like Kaplan’s chair-rattling rhythmic bass vocals and Hoying, Maldonado and Grassi’s leads, but also the blends as the group would turn into one big rhythm section supporting whoever happened to be taking the solo.

It wasn’t all a cappella — Olusola brought out his cello for a solo turn (he had a recent EP out, The Renegade) accompanied only by his own beatboxing, and he played the cello during the group’s take on Stromae’s Papaoutai — but it mostly was, with group staples such as Evolution of Beyonce and Evolution of Music. And toward the end, with the original ballad Standing By — with Kaplan on lead, using a pleasant croon that was different from his usual deep bass — and On My Way Home, with Hoying, Maldonado and Grassi each leading a section of the crowd in a harmony part — the music became more deep and affecting.

The group told a brief version of its story — from the Arlington’s threesome’s start as a trio (the show included the first song they ever performed together, Lady Gaga’s Telephone) to Kaplan and Olusola joining them for The Sing-Off to their win on that show to their eventual record-label and Grammy success — accompanied by big-screen shots of lots of pictures. Members of the crowd — parents, friends, Hoying’s first voice teacher — were part of that journey, adding to the good-vibe feel.

The On My Way Home tour was named for the Grand Prairie concert, the last in a two-month U.S. tour. But being home won’t last — they’re scheduled to begin a new European tour April 9, and then to tour with Kelly Clarkson in the summer, with an Aug. 30 date at Gexa Energy Pavilion in Dallas. So it’ll be a few months before they’re on their way home again.