Time for another episode of The Sing-Off, and… another bracket. Who are these groups again? It’s getting kind of difficult to keep switching up my allegiances from week-to-week considering this show keeps switching brackets on me. Watching the opening performance, I can barely remember who is in what group in this second bracket, let alone which groups are in this bracket and how they did two weeks ago. Maybe I’m grumpy because I remember not liking this bracket very much outside of Pentatonix, who were great. Maybe I’m a little gregarious because the opening performance wasn’t very good at all (which may confirm my suspicions that this bracket is not very good.) I think “Rhythym of Love” by the Plain White Ts would make a great big-group song… the way it is. Why every singer decided to put their own unadvisable spin on the simple melody I will never know, but I semi-cringed pretty much every other bar. Sigh. No matter what the case may be, I’m glad I will hear at least a few songs I will love over the next two hours, and I am even gladder that this will be the last week that the groups will be broken up: next week the brackets meet and I get that feeling of constancy back.
First up we have The Deltones, who sang a moving but not technically great version of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home” last week. “We’re not good enough,” one of the guys barks in the pre-performance package, and I fear he may be right. On top of that, we are told that the group has been stricken by PLAUGE!!! The soloist is recovering from a cold, though she pulled off a solo vocal that sounded only a little strained. This performance falls squarely in the middle of the pack for me. “The Edge of Glory” was perfectly acceptable, but I feel that a just-good-enough solo married with just-good-enough backing vocals that never seemed to blend very well held this group back again. What’s my diagnosis? I think The Deltones have the most consistent tempo problems in the competition. I never feel a strong presence from the drums and bass, and so they never really shake me. That plus I don’t feel like their arrangement was particularly innovative. It had all the trappings of a typical college a capella performance (lots of layering and repeating of words and subtle countermelody) without ever seeming fun. Increasingly this group seems harried and not distinctly fun. That’s not a good sign for them.
Our second group is Pentatonix, making their highly-anticipated return to the stage. Last week they were essentially anointed as the kings and queens of a capella, a title they earned but they may not be able to hold on to. In theory, I love the idea that they will be performing “Your Love Is My Drug” by Ke$ha, but will I love the performance itself? As Sara put it after the performance, Ke$ha… is scary, but this can be a relatively tender song, so where do you with that? Suffice it to say, this group absolutely gets to keep their crown. They made a big mistake in execution by deciding to give the first verse a melody rather than trying to do something with the sing-talk aspect that makes this song a Ke$ha song. It was a great artistic move but it didn’t translate. So it looked like they’d lost the crowd, and I think it takes a lot to win back your audience. What Pentatonix did after the first verse, and especially after the bridge, won the audience back big time. Some of the effects this group can do are simply astounding. I can’t even really describe them, they are so seamless and perfect for what they are doing. I can only direct you to the video and tell you this: enjoy.
The Collective has the onus of being the least highly regarded team left in this competition. There’s a great a capella group locked somewhere in there, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to unlock it before their almost inevitable elimination. Also, their soloist also has the PLAGUE!!! Larangytis is The Collective’s affliction of choice. Once again, the miracle of live performance cured the ill and we got a soulful vocal. This may have been the best overall performance so far tonight. Last week’s “Rolling in the Deep” was too fast and too unfocused. This week’s “Rocketeer” was noticeably more laid-back and focused and it only got better as the performance went on. The judges praised the group for their improved blend, and I thought that having three soloists was a smart move for a group called The Collective: it gave me a better idea of a team, and, if there’s one soloist don’t care for, there’s omsthing for me to fall back on. (The judges were drooling all over Ruby, but I find her voice shriek and lacking in pitch, so I was glad to see her turn at the front only last two lines this time around.) Not sure if this was the performance The Collective needed in order to salvage their hopes for the $200,000 prize and recording contract, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
In the fourth slot, we have a group that I don’t see having a lot of direction. Where can North Shore go from here? This is always my problem with the “Over 50” groups on this show. They will always be heaped with praise for giving this genre its foundation and for sounding so classic, but what can they really do today? They’ll be perfect at what they do, and they’ll even tackle newer songs with their own special aplomb, and they’ll get the praise and the accolades until they are asked to kindly leave. This is all pretty much summed up by the big guy with the really prominent accent: “I ain’t never heard of Bruno Mahhhs!” he shouts at me. Yes, I figured as much. I don’t want to sound too critical, all that being said. Their version of Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song” was effortlessly fun and extraordinarily good. I think, hearing this song, that there’s maybe too much going on in a Bruno Mars record, and there were times when I thought, “They could use one more guy.” The five guys they have: splendid. Flawless professionals, particularly the guys who got called out by the judges: their bass is great, and Guy is a great front-man. His best quality is that he’s not old-fashioned or stodgy – he’s naught and fresh without seeming creepy and he always has the crowd on his side. Oh, and he has a great voice. That helps too.
The Dartmouth Aires are a group I pretty inexplicably did not like last week. They sang Stevie. They’re performance was great, they’re energetic and fun… and I hated them. I kind of felt bad about, but then I remembered no one cares what I think yet, so I can think whatever I want for right now. Will I think better of “Animal” by Neon Trees? Aside from two weak notes from the new soloist Brendan, this was another pretty great performance that I liked more than last week… but still not a whole lot. You know the Warblers on Glee? How they’re always smiling and stiff and they sound really good but they don’t seem to have as much heart as the kids at McKinley? The Aires are like that, except instead of smiling and being sort of stiff, they are SMILING and jumping around like rabid monkeys with fleas. And it seems like they do it at all the wrong times. I just don’t buy it. I love theatrical, and their too theatrical for even me. They’re the little theater girl who ends “On My Own” with jazz hands and a giggle. You probably don’t agree if you’re watching, but I’ll feel how I’ll feel. I won’t be upset if the Aires stick around for a few more weeks, they sing really well, but I’ll be furious if they win it all. I am who I am!
Last up before the break, we have the pros in Sonos. They went too far last week, not connecting with the audience The Sing-Off actually has. It was pretty easy to determine that their performance of “Wicked Game” wasn’t going to gain them any traction. This performance was more confusing in that regard. Was this a beautiful, moving performance setting them on the path to cleaning these college kids clocks? Or was it another ambitious failure? I lean towards the former but I could see how you could see this performance of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” as falling short on The Sing-Off. Anywhere else, this performance would have worked as… a statement about the beauty of the naked human voice. Sonos is way more exposed, way more emotional and way smarter than everyone else here. They aren’t trying to sound like anything but the most innovative group of vocalists in America. They don’t want to sound like a sound panel, they don’t want to sound like a band… they want you to hear what they’re doing with their voices. I was moved, I got chills, but I also heard pitch problems.
I found the 60s montage a bit more grating the second time around. It was all a bit obvious, though I laughed heartily when one of the guys from the Aires, dressed in neon pink, said enthusiastically with this big doofy grin that he thought the 60s were fun and therefore perfect for the Aires, because he looked exactly like Andy Samberg making fun of dorky guys who are overly-enthusiastic about their music and wanting to have fun. I feel like a really mean person for pointing that out.
Pentatonix opened things up and officially solidified their place at the tippy top of this competition. Last week I suggested Delilah take on “Piece of My Heart” which Janis Joplin growled into prominence forty years ago. I never would have figured any group would turn the song into a reggae jam that perfectly suited a guy’s voice. Pentatonix pulled this idea off flawlessly, and it was all the cooler because they have a girl who looks sort of like Janis, and they kept her in the background and really changed it up. What a fun and perfect performance. I love this group.
I fear The Deltones made the same mistake Delilah made last week – in choosing a played out Motown song, they picked something they could not do a lot with. Not that “Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes is a bad song; it’s a classic, but what are you going to do with it? What’s special? Not much in this Deltones performance. It would have all been okay if the solo had been stronger, but I felt like this was the weakest solo performance this week.
Were the guys in North Shore alive in the ‘60s? Oh they were? I never would have guessed! Thank you show for repeatedly pointing this out to me. Would it be the greatest upset ever if North Shore took this competition? I think so, and it would make a great story. Look, I’m sayin’, they have the goods. Can they win over enough people to get those final votes? Their take on “Unchained Melody” was splendid and probably would have taken out Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town in a throw-down battle. More than that, it ensures that they had the best overall night tonight. More great bass. More great blend. A fantastic solo. It was good to see the guys back in their element. I’m sure they’ve sung this song 1,000 times since they got started in 1965. It was just as good the 1,001st.
The Collective told the judges to hold on, hold on, hold on, but the judges made the valuable point that we’re not going to wait forever for them to get it together. This group really came together at the end of this performance of “Hold On, I’m Comin’” by Sam and Dave. They waited too long to get there, languishing in the verses, holding back. Not wise. I would like to see this group continue to grow, I’m starting to feel their Nashville soul, but I won’t exactly mind if they go either.
Sonos is performing a version of “I Want You Back” that I’ve heard before on YouTube and loved. It is slow, in a minor key, and features almost none of the melody from the actual Jackson 5 version. This is the Sonos version through and through. In the context of this competition, it fell flat once again. The judges probably gave the most negative feedback they’ve ever given to a group before on this show. I was almost in shock. Ben and Shawn scolded Sonos. I wouldn’t have been surprised it they hit them with a ruler. They really refuse to indulge the serious, moody side of this group, and they would not stand for the changing of what Shawn calls “a CLASSIC!” I can’t argue really, I understand that Sonos is not working on this show, but judges… open up America’s ears a little! This was a great, musically complex performance, and it was, unlike “Wicked Game,” sexy. One thing it was not was bad. I could understand Sonos going home, because this stage will never be their home, but I’m upset a group this adventurous and this great might be going home with a mean-spirited tongue-lashing that I can’t say I really understand.
The Dartmouth Aires wrap up the show tonight. “Pinball Wizard” finally gave the song they could be unabashedly theatrical during without it seeming tonally absurd. Vocals still strong. Solo a bit too raspy. Good arrangement. And the attitude finally made sense. This was probably the first Aires performance I liked. Still would prefer they didn’t win the whole thing.
So who’s going home? No idea. I can tell you who’s not: Pentatonix, North Shore and The Dartmouth Aires are safe as heck. The other three teams are almost equally vulnerable. If the judges are going to stick with their guns, they’ll send home Sonos in spite of their clear talent. My guess is that The Deltones won’t make it, though The Collective is also basically asking for a ticket home.
The Deltones got a pass, leaving Sonos and The Collective on the chopping block. Of those two teams, I’m going to guess the judges will axe Sonos, which preemptively makes me angry. Will I have to be angry? You won’t like me when I’m angry.
I’m angry. At least the judges have proven they have conviction. I kind of feel like Sonos got put out of their misery tonight. I love The Sing-Off, but they are probably too adventurous for this competition. I guess that’s like saying the “indie band” will never be ready for the mainstream audience and they shouldn’t lower themselves to that, which is kind of an elitist approach, but its how I’m feeling after watch Sonos struggle so to fit in on this stage. Why fit in? So they can perform “I Want You Back” like everyone else would? No, I’d rather Sonos exist just as they are somewhere where adventurers can find them.
What of the teams that are left? Here’s how I’d rank them, though keep in mind most of them would rank far lower than the teams from the other bracket.
- Pentatonix by a mile. Watch their performances again. Need I say more?
- North Shore: They had the best night. I see a top four finish for these guys. I would actually be so excited to see them pull the upset and take it all. Their chances. Oh I’d put it at 2% right now. So don’t put money down.
- The Dartmouth Aires: Don’t like ‘em. Can’t rank them lower then this though. They’ve got the talent even if they get on my nerves.
- The Collective: I firmly believe this group has gotten the kick in the butt they needed. I feel a big comeback coming on from The Collective.
- The Deltones: I think this group is pretty much juiced, on the other hand. Most of my enthusiasm for The Deltones last time was influenced by fortuitous song choice. Without that connection, I am missing any possible way The Deltones could possibly keep it up for much longer.
Well, that’s all for this week on The Sing-Off. Next Monday, we get all ten groups in the same room, a prospect that has me more excited than I thought I would be. At this early juncture (there are ten teams left, and this is as many group as this competition had ever had previously) who do you think is going to take it all. Pentatonix? Afro-Blue? Still a Delilah fan? Or are you the pour soul that’s hoping for a North Shore win?