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Pentatonix Packs Perfection in Tucson

March 1, 2014

By Jennifer Haarland

The power of five. Just down the road from Mesa, acapella phenomenon Pentaonix jammed at Tucson's Rialto Theatre Thursday night to a fire-code-hazard-packed house. Like the pitch-perfect pop vocal quintet themselves, their absurdly loyal fans were a different kind of crowd.

At the only Arizona show this sold-out Pentatonix Tour booked, they were more shoulder-to-shoulder, jostling-festival-choir packed at the Rialto, not beer-spilling-rock-concert packed. Sure, they knew all the lyrics to all the cover songs and often sang along. But how many standing, fist-pumping crowds respond in harmony, layer after layer of it?

"We were THE biggest choir nerds, best friends in high school," just three short years ago, announced Scott Hoying about himself, petite powerhouse Kirstie Maldonado and stratosphere tenor Mitch Grassi. And like he had announced free puppies and ice cream, a screaming cheer of mixed idolatry and adoration rang out.

Pentatonix and their fans embody a whole genre-hopping culture.... the culture that's these days filled with opera stars singing at Super Bowls(Renee Fleming), with bluegrass aficionados playing Bach (Chris Thile), with classically trained Lindsey Stirlings and Josh Grobans rocking pop hits and getting millions of web views.

Thursday night's set list reflected how the five, with only the power of their own vocal chords, musically legitimize bubblegum pop and rap and more. Though mostly teens and young adults, a sizable number of retirees and elementary school kids chilled to the likes of Beyonce medleys, and of 'Thrift Shop' 'Daft Punk' and 'Royals'. With an authenticity as true as their blend, their five piece mini-choir sang, "We're bigger than we've ever dreamed," like they are genuinely stunned at the inexplicable response and fame they've garnered.

Definitely one of the show's highlights, the group performed their first and only original release 'Run to You' to wildly receptive response. Without explanation or fanfare they took their high-tech ear pieces out, stood close, closed their eyes, and created a blend of dissonance and resolve that produced awed shivers. That kind of jaw-dropping sound has even BIGGER choir nerds, like cutting-edge composer Eric Whitacre, frequently citing and boosting Pentatonix.

The night also included memorable solo snippets. Bass-wonder Avi Kaplan had his sound so superbly mixed that the deep barrel tones from his singular voice box literally vibrated your rib cage, gave new meaning to 'heart be still.' And the guy is an overtone master; harmonizing with himself, he actually demonstrated singing two notes simultaneously.

In an indescribable mix of beat-boxing paired with his cello, Kevin Olusola, after seeming to convert his cello strings to guitar returned to traditional bowing accompanied by vocal percussion sounds of instruments yet to be invented.

The cello and Kevin remained center stage while the group returned. Their unforgettable 'Say Something,' having hit Youtube just four days ago, has well exceeded four million views. Punctuated with moments of desperate silence, the music and lyrics demonstrated a stark, exposed acceptance Thursday night, expanding the Pentatonix signature sound with greater depth than ever.

Trist Curless, the "kids" sound man also travels widely, singing with vocal jazz wonders Manhattan Transfer, and mixing live shows for Staight No Chaser. From behind the huge Rialto soundboard, he shook his head in wonder. "You know, I'm the young guy when I jet around with Transfer. The guy who gets stuff done and knows all the technology tricks. But these five? The sheer speed and volume and excellence of stuff they do in an hour, the way they use those cell phones to connect and create everything? Man. What a ride!"