Pentatonix proves a capalla music isn’t
just for the gleeks
Posted on 23 November 2012 by Midcoast Station
Hugs, handshakes and high fives travel across the crowded floor of
Lincoln Hall in waves of excitement and anticipation. Ex-choir members
break out into their favorite Top 40 songs, raining intricate roulades
upon the rest of the audience as they wait for Pentatonix to take
the stage. A young college student next to me turns to her friends
— “Oh my God, you guys, I think I’m going to cry.”
The lights dim. She cries.
Having devoted my entire high school career to competitive show choir
and vocal jazz ensembles that were deemed nerdy by the popular kids
and musically reductive by the band geeks, it was a little disorienting
to see the hype surrounding acapella music these days. But after a
season of flawless performances and an almost unsurprising win on
NBC’s reality show The Sing-Off, it’s not hard to see
how Pentatonix has garnered such a substantial following.
Acoustic singer-songwriter SJ opened the performance. SJ, accompanied
only by drummer Derek Cintron, creates a mellow sound that is part
Jack Johnson, part Jerry Garcia. With his casual stage presence and
simplistic lyrics such as I like the way you always ask for another
song and how we always get along. I like the way you always dress
for me. I wish you could see what I see in “I Like You,”
SJ seemed like a more appropriate fit for a quaint coffee shop in
a small college town than a sold out venue in the heart of Chicago.
After a quick plug for his most recent album, Coffee: Strong Brew
Edition, SJ closed his set with a mild and tender song titled “Fresh
Soul.” Cintron chimed in on the harmonies in a seamless tenor
that melted into SJ’s vocals. A somewhat colorless performance,
Cintron’s warm timbre sprinkled throughout the performance managed
to bring it to life.
Pentatonix took center stage as Kevin Olusola and Avi Kaplan dropped
the beat for Usher’s “OMG.” Lead vocalist Scott
Hoying charmed the audience with his swoon-worthy voice while singers
Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi provided solid support for him
with strong, unusual harmonies. Olusola, known for his almost robotic
consistency of flawless beatboxing, spit out perfectly timed beat
delays and reverse cymbals, something Usher and Will.i.am needed professional
studio software to create.
After their dynamic open, Hoying announced that the evening’s
show would be a bit different than their usual performance. Mitch
Grassi, a vocalist who packs a powerful falsetto with an impressive
range, was sick. The group had to modify their 15 song set to accommodate
his lost voice, letting the audience sing along to Mitch’s solo
in “We Are Young” by Fun.; including an original song,
“Gravity” performed by Maldonado and Kaplan; and featuring
Olusola’s internet-famous beatbox cello solo.
From the Justin Beiber-Katy Perry mashup “Long As You Love Me/Wide
Awake” to country toe-tapping “Stuck Like Glue,”
this vocal ensemble knows how to create smart arrangements that showcase
their range and individual talents. Maldonado’s flirty rendition
of “Oops I Did It Again” in the Britney Spears medley
left jaws dropped (and maybe a few girlfriends hostile) as she grabbed
the collars of random men in the audience and serenaded them. In Rihanna’s
“You Da One” Hoying lays sweet reggae-tinged vocals over
Olusola and Kaplan’s carefully-timed dubstep tracks. The group
closed on Beyonce’s “End of Time,” a final demonstration
of their insane ability to create stylish arrangements that often
sound better than the original.
Pentatonix didn’t make the audience wait long for their anticipated
encore. The group administered hugs and handshakes throughout the
audience as they performed their ever-popular cover of Nicki Minaj’s
“Starships.” Their energy was unrelenting, and the gratitude
they expressed to their fans before exiting was truly refreshing.
After a long line of a capella groups like New York Voices and Sweden’s
The Real Group whose music never quite translated to the masses, Pentatonix
may be the first vocal ensemble to take a capella mainstream. They
are true musicians who deliver something more real than studio-crafted,
artificial sound, and they are well on their way to revolutionizing
how people see pop music.