Together at last! The ten best groups all in one room, all on one stage! What do they tackle to celebrate this joyous occasion? Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long.” Another misfire for me. The beginning was great, and the other-language section, led by Afro Blue worked great, but on the whole, this performance lacked melody. Not a good thing to be lacking when you’ve 100 people singing together.
First up, we have the Rochester Yellowjackets, one of five remaining college groups. I can say with certainty one of those groups will be going home if not two. Will the Yellowjackets be one of them? They sure get the idea of a “guilty pleasure.” When asked why they chose “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls, they joked about the profound lyrics before conceding, “No… it’s awful.”
I would say the performance they gave was far from awful, but it won’t be one of the more memorable this show has ever seen. The image of the Rochester boys “slamming their bodies down and winding them all around” will be “scarred into his retinas” forever, but the arrangement didn’t leave a huge impression. The guys got by on charm here. My roommate found their antics charming, I found them somewhat grating. The “Fish and Chips!” punchline got a giggle from her. I gave it a tentative scoff. Was it fun? Absolutely. But sonically, I can’t argue it was pleasing. The solos sounded hesitant and wrong in the octave they were being sung in. The arrangement came together in the end, giving us a true musical moment, but before that the arrangement kept you hooked with joke after joke rather then musical moment after musical moment. This was the ultimate in ironic, winking, look-what-we’re-making-fun-of performances. Not a killer, but I hoped for more from a group that had been pretty good at playing things strait and still making it all seem young and fun.
Delilah blew their momentum last week with a boring performance of “Heat Wave.” The girls chose “Flashdance” to try and shift the momentum back in their direction. This was a step in the wrong direction unfortunately. The solo was… wrong. It never sounded like it matched up with the rest of the group. The arrangement was shallow. The choreography never caught fire, a crime considering the song comes from a movie about choreography. The performance was, unfortunately, even more boring then “Heat Wave.” And this one had pretty ladies… and dancing… and chairs! This should have been, well hot. It was really cold. It shouldn’t have fallen as flat as it did, but it seems like the magic formula Delilah unlocked in Week 1 when it made an all-girl group sound like a revelation has been lost and they’re struggling to make it seem like they still have it. I fear this is it for the once front-runners.
North Shore is proving “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” according to Nick. I’m not so sure. I think North Shore is great, and they have momentum in their favor, but I think age is everything with this group. It dictates all the song choices they make, and every sentence seems to be about their fight to prove that, like Susan Boyle, they can be relevant to a YouTube audience even though they have no idea how to work the YouTube. This performance was a bit of a wash. It still managed to be the best of the night so far, particularly technically, which is quite a compliment considering the guys in North Shore only had one day to put this performance together. They are established professionals who can realize the song they have chosen (“Mmmbop”) isn’t working; who can put together another song (“Power of Love”) in a day; and who can make you see why their decision was wise even if it took away some of their ability to innovate. They are also established professionals who have a hard time going outside their box. The judges begged them to leave their comfort zone in the future, and I’m certain they will have a future. I also am pretty sure that leaving their comfort zone will only prove that their appeal lies in their novelty and will keep them from taking the ultimate prize.
The Collective is on the cusp of elimination. They have been since day one. Fortunately for them they turned in a mostly stellar performance of “I Will Survive” that woke this sleepy night of a capella up and dragged it into 2011. Thank goodness. I could have taken or left the remix beat they laid down during the verse, but the Collective stepped up their game big-time during the chorus. It sounded as iconic as it should have, but it also sounded fresh and unique to their group. The solos were, for once with this group, flawless. Their take on the disco hit was not a meta-commentary on why they are guilty they are singing this song. It was a soulful take on a classic that needed a fresh interpretation and got one from a group of Nashville singers who want desperately to survive. They didn’t feel guilty about singing this song. They felt empowered. And you got that from what they put on the stage. Good for them.
Next up, we have my resident punching bags, the Dartmouth Aires. I have an unreasonable vendetta against these fun Ivy League guys. I think I hate them for smiling so much. So I liked that they started this performance with their backs turned. No, but seriously, this was definitely my favorite Aires performance. The first verse had me captivated. The chorus had some moments that really lost me, but the Aires followed it up with some seriously great musical moments. The Aires leveraged their theatrical, dancey identity in a way that made sense. They restrained it when it made sense and then they basically said “Look at me!” And I can handle that. I can handle setting aside your strongest dancer and giving him a feature. That’s cool and even innovative on this show. I don’t like it when the rest of the guys try to match that intensity for a full two minute set. I think the Aires might finally be getting that. All the power to them!
I am almost certain this is the end of the road for Delilah. This saddens me since Delilah tore it up their first time on the Sing-Off stage. I fear that unfortunately, on Guilty Pleasure Night, we will realize that we have a full-fledged one-hit wonder on our hands. Which is fitting, but sad. (I’d put them right in there with “Groove for Thought” as a group with one great performance that could never live up to its potential.)
I decided to leave that entire last paragraph in tact because that’s how surprised I am that North Shore got the boot. North Shore had a stronger repertoire, stronger vocals and a better story. (And an amazing bass! Seriously, he’s phenomenal.) I guess the judges saw more potential in Delilah, which is fair. I always thought that North Shore was going nowhere fast, but I didn’t expect them to be going home this fast.
I’m just going to review the next two groups together. They are both perfect. Afro-Blue and Pentatonix could only possibly lose ground – they’re already on top. If anything these two groups are already competing in their own personal finals while everyone else competes for third.
Afro-Blue and Pentatonix both got their first criticisms for overthinking arrangements last week, but it’s hardly affected their front-runner status. This week both groups consciously toned down some of the trickery, which – I mean – did you notice? I didn’t. It still sounded like any of these ideas either of these groups are putting out there to our ears’ delight are ideas that any non-acapella producer would kill for. These are radio-ready interpretaions. Cut. Print. That they can pull of these performances live is astounding. These two groups are their own Spotify playlist on my computer. I love them.
The Deltones, unlike the last two groups, can not seem to distinguish themselves from the pack. They are an anonymous blur of 15 people. They have no star. Every other college group has a star – the Deltones do not. They sound like every other college a capella group in the nation, and watching them on-stage, I feel like I’m getting the same experience I get from the thousands of filmed performances of cheesy ‘80s hits by 15-person groups that I can see on YouTube. This was, in essence, Ben’s criticism of the Deltones after they competently tackled Roxette’s “Listen to Your Heart.” There was nothing wrong with the performance. There was also nothing truly right about it. Which is why I anticipate an early exit for the earnest but forgettable Deltones.
Urban Method is another group that’s had a tough time making themselves seem special. Pentatonix has essentially stolen their thunder. The producers keep pimping Urban Method as innovative, legit, contemporary, but Pentatonix keeps stepping all over it by being all of those things way better then Urban Method and not needing a rapper to do it. So the best thing Urban Method could have done was prove they are in on the joke. And they did. From the moment Mike the rapper overzealously jumped in shouted “POISON!” and the group told him, “Hey, not yet, man,” I was on board completely. It made the actual rap a welcome moment and the group pulled it off. It was funny. As it should have been.
The pimp spot for this week’s “Footloose” remake should have been painful, but instead Vocal Point proved they are far-and-away the best all-male college group left in this competition. This version should have been included in the movie, that’s how pitch prefect it was. I really don’t have to say anymore.
This final elimination was the most obvious this competition has seen yet. That Afro-Blue ended up in the bottom two was shocking, but who went home was far from it. The Deltones have seemed for a while like a bland reminder of what’s holding this show back, while the groups that surround them sound like, as Ben likes to say, “the fu-fu-fu-future!”
What’s in store for the future of The Sing-Off? I feel pretty confident in predicting a Pentatonix win, with Afro-Blue being an absolutely awesome runner-up. After that, I see Vocal Point coming in 3rd, Urban Method coming in 4th, The Yellowjackets and The Dartmouth Aires taking 5th and 6th, and The Collective and Delilah failing to make it out of next week. Any problem with my absolutely accurate vision of the future? Make your voice heard!