It’s rock n roll/country night on The Sing-Off. The group number of the week is Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up”. Pentatonix front guy leads off quite well, and Delilah picks up and the ball and runs with it from there. Sublime wall of sound moving ahead, with the Vocal Point guys riffing off it. Urban Method gets its moment, then The Aires soloist says “heck no, this is my moment,” after which the Pentatonix an Delilah leads challenge him, before Urban Method gets it back. Afro-Blue is, oddly, the lone group up in the stands. I guess they couldn’t choreograph them in. But oh, wait, the whole crowd has a hand in the air waving, so I guess the entire studio is in on the choreo for this one. All in all, a pretty cool number that worked well for the uber-group formula, and I’d actually be interested to hear a regular-sized ensemble take it on.
Pentatonix kicks off the evening’s competition with Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.” The behind the scenes package shows that the woman is feeling sick—dangerous for a five-person group. Nice motor-simulation bass on the opening, and killer perc as always. Fun use of the steps on stage to stagger the group’s entrances. The sound is a little thin on the verse but masked well behind the bass and perc. Good call to go choral on the chorus. The whole group falls out, then flies into the second verse—excellent dramatic choice. I really don’t like the backing vocals here (said the broken record) because they just sounds so thin with only two people behind them. When they let loose and focus less on harmonies that echo the solo, and more on providing texture to the melody, the song takes off. The interesting thing I’m finding with this group is that, when the bass and perc are the stars, the group sounds killer. In more melodic pieces, I can sort of take or leave them. This was a good outing for the crew.
Sara calls the performance incredible, and says the sacrifice the group is making are all worth it. She lauds the solo. Shawn gives props to the bass and drums, calling them the driving force and the heroes behind the song. Ben—always the musical historian--points out that this song is the source of the term “heavy metal.” He says the performance was awesome.
Here come The Dartmouth Aires with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Just two men on stage to open—solo and perc. The guys explode onto stage from all sides, launching into a racing tempo and pounding sound. Second rock solo is surprisingly solid—this brand of aggression is hard to pull off in a cappella, but he’s swinging for the fences and making contact. The choreography is a little too Westside Story for my tastes when they get to moving around, but the energy and pure swagger we saw from these guys in the opening weeks of the show is so clearly back that I won’t knock it—crazy what one week of the judges kissing your rear end will do for your confidence, huh? Neat little classical breakdown as the group staggers into three lines, and we’re back to a solid rock sound on the close. Really solid outing all around for The Aires.
Shawn channels Ric Flair with a big ol’ “WOOOOOOOO!” He compliments the growl of the second solo, then circles back to the first. Ben lauds the drive of the piece and the Broadway take on the opening and close. He comments they lost the pitch a little on the bridge, but recovered quickly. Sara praises the group’s versatility and ability to blend theatrical performance, humor and rock, and takes her hat off to the percussionist.
Third out of the tunnel is Afro-Blue singing “American Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbeakers. Very clean soaring vocals on the open. Jazzy little beat on the verse. Solo is good, but a little too animated for my tastes in a sort of uncomfortable, trying too hard way. In the lead-in Afro-Blue talked about stripping down to basics, and not over-thinking the sound, but when this group dumbs things down, they demote themselves to the status of “really good jazz group” which just isn’t as appealing or interesting as the crossover work they’ve shone with in the past. Weird choice to cut straight to the instrumental section next. This is the first part I’d cut if I only had two minutes to work with. They transition to a sample of the National anthem which is reasonably well executed ,but pretty forced in terms of thematic connection. I definitely could have done without it. Part of the problem is that this song is a rock anthem in which a man pays tribute to American girls; having a female lead really redefines it, and all the cutesy effects don’t help matters. Jazz breakdown of the chorus on the close, which I’m lukewarm on. Musically, this was all fine, but I think these are the poorest artistic decisions we’ve ever heard from this group.
Ben says the top was especially good, and the group members were themselves on the melody. He didn’t like the National Anthem sample for lack of a connection to the song itself. He comments on the conflict between finding an identity and being accessible; he challenges the group to be more complex, but deceptively so. Sara calls the group fantastically talented but says she didn’t see the group in this performance, and couldn’t really feel them. Shawn says he loves hearing Afro-Blue sing, but in this song, they seemed intimidated by the rock genre and it didn’t relate to the group as well as it should have.
Next up, Delilah is here with Aerosmith classic “Dream On.” The blend is a little off on the opening, but holy poop do I love this solo—particularly when she rips en route to the chorus. The bass is killing it. Nice, sudden escalation, cutting straight from the chorus to the bridge. That’s what it’s about when it comes to trimming a song for the context. The solo steps out front and gets the wind blowing in her hair for the high notes and… she… kills it. Lots of fun staccato bursts from the group behind her—easy to not notice them behind this star-making solo performance. Superb!