TV's Pentatonix puts on five-star a cappella
Published March 4, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
I used to be in an a cappella group, and after seeing Pentatonix,
the season three winners of NBC’s "The Sing Off,"
perform Sunday night at The Pabst Theatre, I’m glad I’m
no longer in it. The Arlington, Tex. singing stars are so ridiculously
talented, vocally skilled and ludicrously creative that if I was still
in an a cappella group, I’d be so depressed.
As its name would suggest, Pentatonix consists of only five members
– lead singer Scott Hoying, super-bassist Avi Kaplan, mega-tenor
Mitch Grassi, beatboxer Kevin Olusola and Kirstie Maldonado, the lone
female voice in the group (though Grassi’s voice can get preposterously
Though their numbers are small, the singers’ sound is still
massive, able to fill the Pabst like the most amp-bursting of rock
bands. Their opener – a mash-up of techno outfit Swedish House
Mafia’s "Don’t You Worry Child" and "Save
the World" – was an ideal way to start the night, a high-energy
number that showed off the singers’ freakish vocal ranges and
their intricate and unpredictable arrangements.
The zippy hybrid also gave the troupe an opportunity to use its set
– a modern looking platform with two sets of stairs in the front
– for some choreography and some dramatic lighting schemes.
A cappella may be a brand of music emerging mostly from choir nerds
– Pentatonix’s words, not mine – but that doesn’t
mean its singers can’t perform like rock stars.
Pentatonix continued through its set list, a combination of covers
from its winning run on "The Sing Off" and its relatively
new YouTube channel. The music choices ranged from new hits, like
Macklemore’s anti-brand rap anthem "Thrift Shop" and
Usher’s "OMG," to old school classics, including "Video
Killed the Radio Star." The latter number may be from the late
’70s, but Pentatonix still brought some new tricks, namely some
vocal stuttering that sounded just like a skip on a disc.
Pentatonix also tried out a few original songs, a rarity in the usually
cover-based a cappella world.
Throughout the evening, individual members of the band were given
the spotlight and a chance to show off their absurd vocal chops. Grassi
played the role of nerd diva on stage, breaking into several Beyonce-esque
poses while sporting an Ash Ketchum hat from "Pokémon,"
and he had the pipes to back it up, taking the lead on covers of "Telephone"
and "Dog Days Are Over" with his soaring high-pitched voice.
During a glorified break for the rest of the group, beatboxer Olusola
took the stage with the evening’s most surprising guest: a cello.
That’s right – an actual instrument was used, as Olusola
played an impressive extended cello-beatbox duet, the vocal percussionist’s
original claim to fame before joining Pentatonix.
Bassist Kaplan also got a moment in the spotlight for a brief demonstration
of overtone singing and a quick rendition of "Song of the Lonely
Mountain" from "The Hobbit." They were impressive vocal
asides, but frankly, I would’ve been satisfied simply hearing
his ridiculously low, powerful voice read a phone book or imitating
the Kool-Aid Man’s signature "Oh yeah!"
Maldonado was the only member of the group who didn’t get to
seize the stage. Minus a few brief solos in "Starships"
and "Thrift Shop," the group’s lone female was fairly
silent. According to Grassi, she was suffering from a throat problem,
and she could be seen battling a few coughing fits between songs near
the end of the show. She never got to really take the lead during
the night, but for a group so reliant on meticulously crafted harmonies
and specific vocal parts, blowing her voice out with a barrage of
solos was probably too much of a risk.
Luckily, the other members of Pentatonix were able to compensate,
especially when it came to crowd interaction. They had a fun repartee
with both each other – especially Kaplan and Olusola –
and the crowd, including the night’s best moment, when they
serenaded a humorously flabbergasted fan with their version of "Let’s
Get It On" – brief lap dance from Kaplan included.
It’s hard to say whether some of the crowd activities –
including a prolonged sing-a-long section – were planned beforehand
or last minute add-ins because of Maldonado’s struggling voice.
Either way, they were amusing and added to a concert that was pretty
much pitch perfect.
Tags: Pentatonix, a cappella, music, Pabst Theatre, The Sing Off,
Let's Get It On, Thrift Shop, Starships
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