Event Review: The Sing-Off Season 2, Episode 3

This week’s episode starts with the version of Green Day’s “21 Guns” from the American Idiot misical. Another strange, semi-edgy song choice, capped off with actual pyrotechnics.

The Backbeats are the first competing group, and they perform Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Lots of black leather and pink tonight. Muddled, uncertain sound from the group, and a pretty weak solo. Very good perc and a mostly slick visual presentation, though the gun motif was a little overplayed. I’ll let that go because of the way the song is spliced they’re singing about the “shot” a lot.

Nicole praises the solo and the percussion and that she liked the attitude. Ben credits them for a fun song choice, and likes that they transitioned the song from rock to R&B, but the song didn’t really kick into gear until they hit the bridge. Shawn agrees with Ben.

Street Corner Symphony is up next and performs “Creep” by Radiohead. The group wears red and black. The group plays soulful soloist up front where their standard lead guy taking the lead and the rest of the guys standing behind him. There are six guys in the group so they stand in one cluster of two, one cluster of three for awkward, asymmetrical stage presence—when you that few group members, it’s quite obvious. The groupThe soloist is quite good, as always but I am not digging this song choice for him. It just doesn’t fit the soloists, and doesn’t prove to complement his range all that well—he doesn’t do anything special with the high notes, and the song in general just doesn’t seem to quite the right tone for his smooth pop sensibilities. Despite the awkward asymmetry, I will praise the guys for being smart enough not to move—letting their stillness sell the emotion of the moment. All in all, I wanted more, or something different out of this. I want raw emotion on the melancholy parts and some true rocking out on the rock parts of the song. The group delivers neither.

Ben praises the use of the soloist’s range, and thought things took off on the solo. Shawn calls the soloist a rock star, likes that there was no choreography because that would have been cheesy. Nicole praises the honest performance and particularly the solo, and thought the accompaniment was better than the original instrumentation

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town follow with The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” It’s nice to see the group project some attitude here with a much gruffer presentation than we’ve seen from them up to this point. I worry they’re at the verge of jumping the shark here, though—the performance just seems a little forced with the leather jackets and the constant gruff on Lawson’s voice. The arrangement remains simplistic and repetitive—still very well executed but the cracks are starting show, which does not bode well for the group’s longevity in this competition.

Shawn says the performance was fun and encompassed what rock and roll is all about—fun, flirtation, and entertainment. Nicole says they showed a new side to themselves and it was awesome. Ben says it brought him back to childhood.

On the Rocks is up next with Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” Not a very good song choice from the perspective of showing themselves as artists the way Ben challenged them to on the previous episode, but a very good choice for maintaining their niche as outrageous performers—which, I think is the safest bet for them at this point; I don’t think they can necessarily hang, at least on a consistent basis on pure musicality, but this is good extrovertedly entertaining enough that it should keep them alive. Leather jackets, yellow t-shirts and jeans jeans for the guys; great use of visuals as per usual—they manage to get 15 guys to sell every move full-tilt--no small feat; the camera works pretty well with them to show off what they’re doing. Overtly sexual choreography—I guess Nicole can talk about musical orgasms, pelvic thrust are well within play. Great choice to go choral on the breakdown while the perc stands strong. I would have liked to have seen them rely less on the chorus and go deeper in the verses; entertaining as this was, this got redundant by the end.

Nicole says she loved the choreography and the perc. She liked the solo, but wanted him to own it a little more. Ben says it was fun from beginning to end but calls them on still not transitioning from entertainer to artist. He says there were parts where he couldn’t find the pitch, and it came off like a rap. Shawn wanted to hear more bottom out of it and more of a rock ‘n’ roll edge from the solo.

Groove for Thought performs “Changes” by David Bowie. The female solo is a nice change of pace. Good use of dynamics, and yet the performance still comes off oddly monotone—the sound so blatantly jazz /easy listening. The soloist fumbles over the lyrics toward end. She plays it off well enough, continuing to smile and sing, but the mistake is audible, and a rare overt flub on the show, which might cost the group.

Shawn calls them on not executing a rock ‘n’ roll song, still sounding very jazz; Nicole wanted to hear more diversity from the group—she says soloist lost her place in the vocal and it went sharp. Ben says they surprise him every time out, but agrees they fell a half step off toward the end.

The next group is Committed, which sings “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Such a big sound, and yet another great soloist from the crew. I like that they’re making this more of a rock song than it was; it almost reminds me of the reggae remix of the song by UB40, but that description doesn’t quite do it justice—again, they’re making a song their own, and molding it to their style. This is a simpler arrangement than we’ve seen from the guys before. Great choice with the echoing solo. The transition to the bridge is positively slick. My only knock on this group is, thus far, everything has taken on the same tenor—slick, kind of downbeat, but cool. I would have liked to have heard them go whole hog rock or swung toward a true emotional rock ballad.

Ben says rock is often about being simple and they made the song much more complex. He says it was beautiful, but he wanted more rock. Shawn says it would have been nice to get more of the original feel of song—the coldness and loneliness. Nicole says it wasn’t one of her favorites.

The Backbeats open up the second round, a selection of guilty pleasures, with “Love Shack” by The B-52s. Kenton Chan finally gets a taste of the solo mic; singing the male lead. The group is all clad in preposterous pastel outfits—way over the top, but fitting for the song. The whole performance is just a little too silly for a group in this competition. I get that they wanted to lighten up after a string of more somber performances, and for all of its sugar and fluff, the group did execute this sont more ore less perfectly. I just would have preferred to have seen them loosen up in more of a rocking, powerful way than a silly, frilly way. Great perc. I like the choice to have the percussionist do the “tin roof—rusted” part, then key right back into the perc. The execution wasn’t quite there, though—her voice sounded a little weak, understandably for having to break from her perc. Nonetheless, the effect didn’t work as well as it should have.

Ben says it was a lot of fun. Nicole likes that they let loose and calls it a colorful performance, both visually and to the ear. Shawn says they went all out, particularly with outfits, and he loved it.

Street Corner Symphony performs next with Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.” Costume change to green shirts, jeans, and black and brown jackets. Nice choral, jazzy opening before grooving into the first verse. All of tonight’s songs have been trimmed liberally for time constraints, but the cutting is especially brutal on this one, as the song just gets hard to follow for how frequently they jump around, cutting way early to the chorus, then right to the bridge. Good perc, another fine solo. Super awkward chorus line dancing which demonstrates why some groups just should mess with the choreo. All in all, my feeling is there was just too much crammed into this arrangement, to the point that it just sounded incoherent.

Shawn says they weren’t afraid to be silly, and the result was really fun. Nicole says it was fun and praises the high notes. Ben lauds them for making it look easy despite the tempo changes—he says it came across like a “Come on Eileen” medley because of all of the transitions.

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town are next with “Easy” by The Commodores. Weird guilty pleasure choice, because I think of this as more less the group’s natural style. They’re all seated on stools for this, and back to more formal wear, in black and pastel blues. Lot of choral work and a lot of high-flying notes. Great harmonies again on solo, but again a very, very simple arrangement. It’s great to hear a second soloist cranking the falsetto. That’s a bit of what this group needed—some additional personalities. The group falls out and lets Jerry sing all on his own as they’re bringing it home.

Nicole calls it sweet music for the ears. Ben praises the bass sound and calls it the unsung hero of the group, and also praises the falsetto. Shawn loves the falsetto and the bass as well.

Groove for Thought performs “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates. The group wears black and bright red—oddly sharp look for this kind of song. Great bass sound, and the group is back to its money soloist. Super jazzy sound again—it’s a similar effect to what I described earlier with Committed, that they convert every song to the same style. The problem is that Groove doesn’t come across cool and innovative, but rather outdated. Even the choreography looks uncool and jazzy. The percussion break down verges on cool—but the lame dancing is there to preserve the lameness.

Shawn says it’s a great song choice for the chords they had the chance to hit, and he praises the bass and the trumpet sounds. Ben praises the exciting swinging tempo, but says he worried it was going to go over the top. He credits the soloist. Nicole says they found the joy of the song and praises the solos

On the Rocks returns with“Kyrie” by Mr. Mister. This was, indeed, a more musical choice than anything they’ve tried to this point. Probably the best On the Rocks solo up to this point on the show. Great visual presentation again. The group blazes through to the fortissimo parts—I would like to see them get more dramatic with the build, but get that that’s easier said than done when you only get two minutes to tell a story. The group wraps up with three soloists, and the rest of group silent. Cool effect.

Ben praises the solo, the harmonies and the arrangement. Shawn praises the soloist’s high notes and talks about the mental imagery the song provoked. Nicole says they did a very good job.

Committed performs last with “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. Most of the guys appear in red and black; two of them in white and black for a cool symmetrical visual effect (take some notes, Street Corner Symphony. The guys hand off the solo on the opening. The dancing is well executed if a little stilted; have to appreciate what they were going for, though I worry the music got a little lost in it. They opt to harmonize over the bass part, rather than showcasing the bass solo itself—it’s a neat enough polychromatic chording effect that I’m on board. One of the guys does a silly “call me” motion at the end, which more or less sums up the entire performance. The guys proved themselves fun and personable, but they just didn’t take selves seriously enough to make this performance worthwhile. Sure, they’re plenty safe from elimination, but rather than lapping the field, they let others gain on them.

Nicole says the performance was hot. Shawn says they made it their own, but kept it fun and fresh. Ben says it was funny and cool to see them loosen up.

Elimination time—Groove for Thought is going home. As I’ve documented thoroughly on the blog, I just didn’t’ dig this group’s style, and I think their one-trick-pony nature caught up with them. They did the least to diversify their sound and style, particularly on an episode on which just about everyone else branched out. The only group to take comparably few chances was Street Corner Symphony—not so coincidentally the group with the most similar sound to Groove for Thought. The bottom line is that Street Corner Symphony is a more interesting group, and very much deserved to stay over their jazzy peers. Groove for Thought sings Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” as its swan song.

The right group went home, and we’re down to just five. On the Rocks and The Backbeats seem like the most likely candidates for the next elimination. Despite a lackluster show, Committed remains safe. Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town are starting to wear down for their own failure to change things up in an effective way. Street Corner Symphony didn’t make a great showing of it either, but remained fairly consistent.

All in all, a lackluster episode for just about everyone. On the Rocks probably gained the most ground--they were the least favored crew going into this episode, but managed to pull off just the right combination of sticking to their guns and diversifying their material to stay vital. They just may have surpassed The Backbeats, who need to find a way to both take themselves seriously and be upbeat. Committed and Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town remain the frontrunners, but each demonstrated signs of weakness this time out. After episode three, I peg Committed as the favorites, while Street Corner Symphony has an outside chance of pulling an upset if they can garner some interest and win over the public going into the finale.

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Mike Chin

Mike Chin co-founded The A Cappella Blog in 2007. He continues to share leadership responsibility for the site, overseeing columns, reviews and features as the content manager. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD.