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!
Shawn says this is rock and roll, and calls the soloist a female Steven Tyler. He dug the build from beginning to end. Ben calls the solo awesome and says he really felt the song and the way in which the group slid up the keyboard. He says they may have hit their peek too soon, so the challenge became keeping it there. Nonetheless, he dug it. Sara says she loves the girls. She calls the lead sick. She goes on to say it wasn’t her favorite performance overall—she likes the range of emotion they can draw from a song, but they may have hit too high too soon, and they lost her a little on this one.
Urban Method is in the house with Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” This is pretty sure to be spectacularly awesome or train-wreck-eriffic. Soft performance with just perc and one vocal, then a slow, swelling build as it progreses. Really interesting reimagining on this start, and I like it a lot. Here comes the rap. This is interesting. I kind of like the idea, but the shift is so dramatic, it doesn’t feel anyting like the original song here. The chorus has some interesting harmonies working for it, but still, they’re completely missing the heart of the song. Fairly slick execution, but I leave this one feeling completely empty, where this kind of song should have you pumping your fists in the air. No, sir, I don’t like it.
Ben says the group took huge chances and reinvented the song. He loved the groove and the top part, and he thought it was all really good. Sara calls the group tenacious as hell, and she says this was a really strong showing for the group. She calls the female high part amazing. Shawn says they’re too deep in the competition to hold anything back, and he loves the choice to rap and change up the rhythm, but maintain the original flavor of the song. I usually don’t offer a lot of commentary on the judges, but I’m kind of dumbfounded at their radical praise for this monstrosity when they so thoroughly bashed Sonos’s take on “I Want You Back” for abandoning the original base of the song. Just weird.
Vocal Point wraps up the first half with “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. Solo operates alone with the group humming behind him, then the perc kicks in and the sound begins to swell, before we launch into full rock mode. The solo is performing the heck out of this. Really weird choice for the group in general to stand off to the side, mimicking instruments rather than dancing. Knowing what the group is capable of visually, I think they’re selling themselves short here. The soloist is going a bit over the top. This isn’t bad, but once they get rocking, it’s all kind of one note. Big props to the rock solo, but a relatively unmemorable showing for the guys aside from that.
Sara praises the group’s stage presence, and says the solo was proper rock and roll. Shawn compliments the percussion, and the group’s decision to show off their inner bad boys. Ben says it was loads of fun. He didn’t love the choice to bring in hair metal, but it was really entertaining. He says it wasn’t a performance he would necessarily want to hear them record based on their artistic choices.
On to the country half of our show. Urban Method, please don’t rap Carrie Underwood. Or do. Could be fascinating…
The Dartmouth Aires are back with Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse, Rode a Cowboy.” These guys sure aren’t afraid to embrace a costume change. Cowboy hats and big belt buckles abound. Fun, aggressive sound. They’re attacking the vocals again. Interesting choice to double up on the lead vocal, which is mostly good, but a little muddled for the choice. The sound is a bit uneven, but the guys command your attention to such a degree that it’s tough to notice. The choreography is impressive for degree of difficulty, with lots of line dance aspects to it, but on account of the complexity, they seem a little more reserved and consciously focused than they do on some of their more free-wheeling stuff. The Aires wrap up by going to church on a big ol’ gospel breakdown. Off-beat choice that I actually dug. Good showing overall.
Ben liked it. He loved the octave effect. He thought the bottom end and groove were a little loose, but says it was fun. Shawn praises the guys for making it fun from a visual perspective, and says that they flubbed the sound at points, but covered it up with their theatrics, hooting, and hollering. The guys take off their hats to listen to Sara. Sara says they did what they do well, but when they go so high energy, elements of their musicality come loose, and they need to harness in their energy.
Afro-Blue is here to sing Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” Very good female solo, and wow, where did this dude come from? Nice sound. I worry this is going nowhere when the bass comes to the rescue on the chorus. Nicely done. I really like the use of individual voices calling out to echo the end of the chorus. The tempo slows way down, providing a nice transition to one last verse. The decision to revert right back to the up-tempo seems sort of odd, and eliminates a bit of that dramatic flair they just built. Cool effect with other group members stepping forward one by one to back the solo, before everyone falls out for the two original soloists to get their last licks in on the close. Emotionally powerful close on a nice showing from the group.
Sara says the performance was really special, and a triumphant moment for the group that viewers will remember. Ben calls the interpretation transcendent and praises the bass. He calls the performance genuine. Shawn says the performance showed how singing certain songs can make artists and listeners alike feel the emotion of the piece.
Urban Method returns to the stage with Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” Nice, bold intro. The solo starts out strong, but slips into a weird speaking rather than singing sound for a bit as it looks like the lyrics and/or tempo get away from her. Back to singing on the chorus, though and there’s some good, legit sass all around, and particularly from the solo. Nice power note for the solo, and really cool effect when one of the other women takes the lyrical steering wheel while the original soloist continues to riff. Nice, fuller sound than I’m accustomed to hearing from the group. When you subtract the rap altogether from their equation, and the women actually come to play, Urban Method is a different--and I would argue significantly better--group.
Shawn says the solo launched into the stratosphere, and praises the bass sound. Sara praises the solo, too, and points out she’s only 19 has some room to grow even further. Ben says the group has found its gift, attacked the song, and they worked their way out of a slump.
Delilah is back again, this time singing The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young.” The women are seated in an arc. Naked, single vocal opening. The sound grows richer, but remains simple with some back up on the solo and soft harmonies which are pretty, but don’t quite seem to click. The bass kicks in on the chorus, and the sound continues to show up a bit uneven. Points for the facials the women put into play, tapping into the heart of the song to really sell it. The solo rips loose for a fine moment, before which we simplify back down to just that same soloist, alone again. Really emotionally rich, dramatic performance, despite a few pitch issues. Nicely done.
Sara says she really liked the song and that they put a lot of emotion and thought into it. She cites pitch issues early on, but says she liked it. Shawn praises the solo, and the emotions, but says it was a little hard to connect with the harmonies. Ben says it was emotionally compelling, but the harmony was off, and the musicality in general came in beneath his expectations for the group.
I’ve gotta give props to Vocal Point for pulling out a rock favorite that happens to have been covered country, in the form of Rascal Flatts’ interpretation of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway.” One of the guys turns the ignition and the guys hit the open road. The guys strike the balance between rock and country with a pretty pop-ish sound. Well-executed but kind of basic sound on the first verse, but I love the swell and the percussion kick-off to the chorus. Solo change moving into the bridge, with a very country sound which could come across as put-on, but he really pulls it off and does it justice. The guys make the wise call to cut straight to the clap-along part of the song from there. Just smart arranging, there. Their country line dance weave is a little more stilted than some of the crisper moves we’ve seen from them in the past, but fun nonetheless. Nice little moment as they toss their hats off on the close.
Ben says it was fun, and praises the country lead, and the main solo. He says they pulled it off nicely and in an authentic way. Sara says it’s cute how proud the guys are of themselves on the end. She says it felt like the guys were rushing at points, but the blend was great and it was really entertaining and energetic with a nice range of dynamics. Shawn says it was a really challenging piece for the percussion and bass as they really had to move whilst keeping the beat, but he says it all worked out well.
Pentatonix takes the evening’s competition portion home with Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue.” Killer perc opening as always. I really like the sweetness of the female solo on the opening. She’s not necessarily an exceptional vocalist, but has a genuinely likeable quality to her. The group lounges around on the opening, but the bass guy and soloist stand up on the chorus, then the rest of the group joins them, and we move to our usual male soloist, who takes on a reggae, almost rap tone. I’m not familiar with the original, so I can’t comment so much on the innovation of the artistic choice—nonetheless, I do really like it. Not much going on in the background sound, but the bass and perc are driving this forward again. Nice, stripped down outing for this group.
Shawn says it was the simplest arrangement he’s heard from Pentatonix, but it was still quite fly. He praises the bass and perc, and the reggae breakdown. Ben says the lead made him smile and the bass was sick. He says they were wise to reel back and deliver a relaxed performance. Sara reinforces that the group delivered with a smart, simple showing.
No question in my mind that Urban Method deserves to go home this week, but based on the judges’ comments, I can’t imagine they’re going home. That leaves Afro-Blue and Delilah on the chopping block, and either of those eliminations is a minor travesty. How do you send Afro-Blue packing after their spin on “Need You Now?” Delilah, on the heels “Dream On?” Sigh. It’s probably Delilah on the outs, given their history of living on the edge on the show (no Aerosmith pun intended).
Pentatonix and Urban Method are safe. The Dartmouth Aires are safe. So is Vocal Point. Sadly, no surprises. Nick Lachey reminds us of the judges’ comments from earlier on. Afro-Blue survives.
Delilah looks at peace with the decision, which is fine tesetament to their professionalism and poise. Their swan song is Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” Fitting song for a female power group, and I dig the decision for them to pass the solo around. Kind of ironic that they sing about being survivors upon elimination, but beyond their life on the show, the song is a testament to their drive and the fact that we likely haven’t heard the last of these ladies, be it as part of Delilah or in their original ensembles.
Man, I’ll miss them.
That’s it for this edition of the show. Be sure to check back throughout the week for The 3 Gs, the updated Sing-Off Power Rankings, and, at the end of the week, an open letter from us to the NBC producers about five ways to save The Sing-Off if we get a fourth season.