A cappella love begets more a cappella love.
I know it’s hard to believe, but a new season of The Sing-Off will be starting soon. The competing groups will begin to arrive in Southern California tomorrow, and the first show will be filmed in front of a live audience on August 5! This got me thinking about last season’s winners, Pentatonix, and the opportunity I got to see and meet them back in April…
The rainy spring evening in April was reminiscent of a bygone rainy fall evening in October, where I had first seen a cappella kings Straight No Chaser perform in 2010. This time, the marquee of the Kalamazoo State Theatre heralded a different a cappella group: NBC’s The Sing-Off Season 3 champions, Pentatonix.
I was struck by the fact that it was because of that first rainy evening in October that I became more aware of a cappella, leading me to watch The Sing-Off, and ultimately back to this venue to see Pentatonix, or PTX (as they are known to their fans).
As an employee of the theatre, I was blessed with the opportunity to arrive early for the general admission show and save seats for my friends in the balcony. As I looked around, I immediately saw a distinct difference in the seating arrangement for this show vs. the Straight No Chaser concert. The first seven or so rows of folding chairs had been removed, creating a large space for the excited fans to dance as well as get closer to the performers. One “Pentaholic” showed true dedication as she quickly made her way to the edge of the stage on crutches. I knew she must have been standing in line for hours outside to have the opportunity to be so close to her favorite band.
The concert began with a mash-up of “Save the World/Don’t You Worry Child” which had the crowd screaming. After an excited greeting of the crowd, PTX segued seamlessly into Macklemore and Lewis’s “Thrift Shop,” with impressive rapping by Scott, Mitch, and Kirstie, held together by their anchor, Avi on the hook and vocal percussion by Kevin that no one could sit still for. The lighting and choreography polished off this modern song so smoothly, it was easy to forget you were at an a cappella concert.
Next, the group covered the early 80’s hit “Video Killed the Radio Star” with bass vocal percussion that you could feel in your seat. Again, this song was coupled with stellar lighting, which really set the mood for the song, and I could feel the excitement of the crowd around me growing.
Often in bands, the soloists naturally end up getting most of the audiences’ love and admiration. However, PTX’s soloists, Scott, Mitch, and Kirstie took ample time to highlight their bass, Avi, and vocal percussionist Kevin. They lovingly referred to them as “meat & potatoes,” and gave these two members special moments to shine. The first of these moments was when Avi demonstrated to the audience how he could “sing two notes at one time” (also called overtone singing or harmonic singing), which impressed us all a great deal.
My favorite part of the concert came next when Kevin brought out his cello and performed “Julie-O” for the audience. The juxtaposition of the smooth, velvety cello and the street-smart sound of his vocal percussion had me holding my breath. The rest of the group joined Kevin for their spin on Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” to round out the “non-a cappella” portion of the concert.
But the treats did not stop there! Avi again showed off his powerful bass voice by performing The Song of the Dwarves from The Hobbit which again had me and the rest of the audience holding our collective breaths, followed by uproarious approval upon his completion.
A PTX original, “The Baddest Girl,” came next in the set, which the members indicated was written by the group’s founder, Scott. The lyrics expressed the desire to be with a girl despite having been warned of her reputation for breaking hearts. It fit among the popular cover songs perfectly with a smooth ballad start and a pleasing jump into an R&B sound that reminded me of a Boyz II Men song.
Following this, Scott, Kirstie, and Mitch left the stage, while Kevin and Avi stayed behind, informing the audience that their participation was needed for the next song. Then, using a great amount of humor, the two split the crowd into a trio, each with a vocal part that would have belonged to one of the three soloists that had left the stage. After the audience had their parts down, Avi and Kevin added their vocal parts so that we had the opportunity to sing along. Then, one by one, they had each vocal part drop out until they were left with just one. This kind of involvement with the audience was obviously loved.
Next, PTX covered Rihanna’s “You Da One” which was followed by choosing a lucky Pentaholic to join them on stage – affectionately referred to by their fans as “Chair Girl” – and serenading her with “Let’s Get It On,” which she hammed it up for nicely.
Good stage chemistry was exhibited among the members of the group throughout the show, as they joked with each other and the audience, engaging us at every opportunity. It was easy to feel as if these singers were your friends; as if they had been waiting eagerly to see you and make sure you enjoyed the music and had a great time. The concert was well rounded out with by a great mix of popular song covers, and tight, smooth harmonies accompanied by dynamic lighting were consistent throughout the show.
To conclude the show, the group performed “Starships” followed by a double encore, leaving a very breathless and satisfied audience. This is one group I will definitely enjoy seeing again and will have no trouble recommending to my non-a cappella friends. It was easy to see how they drew a younger crowd with their fresh take on some of the most pop songs and all the energy they poured into their performance.
Have you seen Pentatonix live, or do you have tickets to an upcoming show? We’d love to hear about your own experience. Let us know in the comments.