By MIKE WEATHERFORD
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
One thing you never have to worry about with a cappella groups. They
know how to put on a show.
Your latest fuzz-rock buzz band may come out of the basement with the
perfect guitar riff, but have a hard time finding something more than
“Hello Cleveland” to mumble between songs at a live gig.
A pop diva might seem pretty lonesome without the dancers and the Auto-Tune.
But a cappella groups such as Pentatonix are born of high school choirs
and performing arts schools, where real singing is fueled by an innate
desire to be onstage.
So even if Pentatonix is America’s hottest “cover band”
— taking an Ariana Grande loaner to open a show with “Problems”
or briefly climbing aboard the very crowded “Uptown Funk”
train — it’s one that makes the singing more valuable than
“The Sing-Off” winners went on to pioneer the fan-making
potential of YouTube, and their upward trajectory has been charted by
each sold-out venue they’ve played in Las Vegas: from a packed
2012 club date at the Hard Rock Cafe to the House of Blues last year
and on Saturday, the uptown Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan.
Most of all, Saturday reminded us Penatonix is the group that struck
the delicate balance of making a cappella cool, while still keeping
it clean and not and alienating the parents needed to chauffeur the
younger segment of the fan base. And what parent could begrudge the
drive after hearing the “Evolution of Music” medley, from
Beethoven to Lady Gaga?
A big stage with handsome lighting and video let the quintet fan out
out on a staired set which looked like high-school gym bleachers, or,
more to the point, the risers school choirs stand on to perform.
The space between them only emphasized the perfect combination of five
distinct voices: On the high end, Mitch Grassi soars to a higher register
than the lone female member, Kirstie Maldonado. Somewhere in the middle
is the pop star voice of Scott Hoying, floating over the vocal percussion
of Kevin Olusola and Avi Kaplan, the bass with the deepest voice since
that “Elvira” dude in the Oak Ridge Boys.
The group hasn’t been around so long that it can’t still
ride the novelty of its fake band sound when the “rhythm section”
of Olusola and Kaplan are in full swing on “Love You Long Time.”
If the vocalese showboating can wear out its novelty or seem a little
ADD after so many pop mashups, then maybe you’re still not quite
addicted enough to your electronic devices.
And yet, these show people know when to let a song run its full course,
such as their jazzy reading of Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be.”
But what about something original? Along with doing a Sam Smith mashup,
the group wrote its own churchy Sam Smith song called “Standing
By,” with Kaplan singing a stirring lead.
Just as Michael Buble transcended Sinatra covers, this one might be
the Pentatonix ticket to not forking over song royalties — and
to arenas as the next Las Vegas step on the ladder.