Review by Greg Haymes
“We still ain’t got no band…”
That was the battle cry (and album title) of the fab Jerry Lawson and the Persuasions way back in 1973, and it seems just as true today. In fact, a cappella is more popular than ever, as evidenced by the nearly sold-out concert by Pentatonix at The Egg’s Hart Theatre.
Yes, the choir geeks have become cool kids thanks to movies like “Pitch Perfect” and TV shows like “Glee” and “The Sing Off.” And they were out in force at The Egg, roaring their approval with Beatlemania-like lung-power at every cool dance move and nimble vocal turn by Scott Hoying and company.
Some vocals-only ensembles still pump out old-school doo-wop or vintage barbershop quartet harmonies or more avant garde fare, but no a cappella group is focused as keenly on the contemporary pop world as Pentatonix. That much was clear from the very start, as the red stage curtains parted, and the five-piece vocal ensemble cracked open their show with a gang-buster version of the Swedish House Mafia’s “Save the World,” with lead vocalist Hoying stepping into the spotlight as the audience clapped along unprompted. And they followed it up with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ ubiquitous hip-hop hit “Thrift Shop.”
No, this defintely wasn’t your father’s a cappella…
And they definitely have the chops to pull it off, both as singers and as all-around entertainers. Sporting his backward baseball cap, Hoying was clearly the group’s frontman, but Kirstie Malonado and Mitch Grassi were both impressive during their lead vocal turns in the spotlight.
In truth, however, it was the vocal rhythm section of bass vocalist Avi Kaplan and beatboxer Kevin ”KO” Olusola – who also took an impressive solo showcase turn playing cello, earning him an enthusiastic mid-set standing ovation – who really held the hour-and-a-half concert together. Their tag-team audience sing-along took a bit too long to set up, but since many in the crowd were self-proclaimed gleeks, it didn’t really matter, as nearly everyone seemed to oh-so-eager to lend their voices to the mix.
The concert was clearly focused on the here-and-now, musically speaking, with dazzling renditions of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” Imagine Dragons’ ”Radioactive,” Kayne West’s “Love Lockdown,” Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl,” a show-closing rendition of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” and a sing-along encore of Fun.’s “We Are Young.”
But the quintet also peeked into the past for a few nuggets such as the Nat King Cole ballad “Nature Boy,” the new wave bop of the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” and a sultry, sexy spin on Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get It On,” sung to Alison Collins, the lucky gal plucked out of the audience to be the focus of the playful, center-stage soul seduction.
The production values were exquisite – an excellent sound mix, flashy, exciting lighting and a more extravagant stage set than most pop shows usually bring to The Egg. And, of course, the vocal fire-power and inventive arrangements were unquestionable.
Now Pentatonix needs to focus on writing more original songs – along the likes of Kaplan’s stand-out “The Peaceful War” – so that they don’t have to spend so much of their time trying to keep up with the rapidly changing Top 40.