singoff  

   This recap is a bit late, and will be a bit abbreviated, because I’ve still got Halloween on the brain and I was busy focusing on the “Discovering Fear” series, which is wrapping up soon.

   I considered skipping the week… but I couldn’t do that. Not to my “Sing-Off.” This was actually a great week for the show, and so I wanted to make sure that, for the record, I gave shout-outs to the groups that deserve them.

   Rather then format this as a beginning to end thing like I usually do, Ill just briefly run down in the performances in order of whether they’re a “Must-See,” “For Fans Only,” or whether it would just be best if you “Don’t Bother.” This will best reflect my post-“Sing-Off” ritual, which consists to adding the best songs of the week to Sing-Off playlist and playing them over and over again until I either become a better musician or ears bleed.

Must-See

   I have repeated over and over that I think Pentatonix is the best thing to happen to the “Sing-Off,” and that the Dartmouth Aires are probably my least favorite group ever on this show in spite of the fact that are very talented. Imagine my surprise, then, when – on a week where Pentatonix gave yet another mind-shattering performance – I tell you that the best performance of the week, the best performance of the competition so far, heck, maybe even the best “Sing-Off” performance period, came not from the pioneering Texans, but from the irritating Ivy League theatre kids that have stepped all over my last nerve.

   This has been coming on for a while. Each week, I’ve grown a little fonder of the Aires, but I still had been given no reason to actually root for them. “Pinball Wizard” and “Club Can’t Handle Me” had been fine, but neither had gotten the group over my self-imposed hurdle – I couldn’t bring myself to admit these guys could really entertain because they were just trying so darn hard. They wanted so badly to put on a show, but they weren’t showmen. They were just loud. Michael yells. Clark kicks. Yay?

   And then this happened:

   This ability to get to the heart of song and dig inside and pull out its still-beating heart – this group has always had this ability, but they haven’t yet shown it on the stage. They’ve just smiled a whole lot. Note the progression of this performance. The boys channel all their manic energy into a nearly flawless take on the middle-section of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which suits them perfectly, but they save the fireworks for “Somebody To Love.” Is their version of a firework more smiles? Is it another high-kick?

   No. It is an astounding version of the Queen classic that understands every “moment” that Freddie Mercury imbued that song with, delivered in such a way that draws every single shiver and gasp out of a live audience. Notice Shawn unable to restrain himself as Michael dips down and sings to the heavens. That’s a rock star move. Look at the way Sara grabs Shawn as Michael prepares to deliver the songs “money” run – “Somebody tooooooooo… loooooove.” The audience can’t restrain itself after that. And the last note was devine.

   Consider me a Michael convert – I finally understand what the big deal about his raspy, overly-emotive voice is. As for the Aires, I’m going to wait one more week to see if this really is a group of theatre guys that I can believe in.

 

   The other must-see performance comes courtesy of perennial front-runner Pentatonix. This performance didn’t give me chills like “Love Lockdown,” but it rewards multiple listens. Some of the effects Kevin is doing to make this sound like a club remix… frankly they don’t sound human. Like I question whether there’s going to have a scandal during finals week where it’s revealed that the sixth member of Pentatonix is a little sound-effect robot that Kevin keeps in his pocket. 

   This medley is a flawless compendium of Britney attitude. Compare it to the shoddy “Glee” episode and you see how brilliant this group as at bringing musical moments to life. Two shout-outs:

  • The belly-dance break was such a musically playful moment. For a second I wondered, “Where are they going with this?” before I realized they were still riffing on “Toxic.”
  • The dub-step breakdown. I’ve seen a lot of Youtube videos lately which basically have the same punchline: dub-step is really loud, and if you aren’t hearing that all-important beat, it just sounds like noise. Avi and Kevin make the dub-step beat work in an incredible feat of coordination. They deserve all the praise they get.

For Fans only

   The first choice is really for anyone who enjoys music and fun. This was by far the best opening the show has ever done. It avoided the show’s consistent problem with these 80-person choirs. One or two soloists who don’t fit the part always ruin it for everybody. This medley of “This is Halloween,” Werewolves of London,” and “Ghostbusters” had three times the soloists… and everyone of them fit their part perfectly. The attitude here is perfect, and I love that the show loved the cricket sound so much that they jammed it in here.

   Next, we have the Yellowjackets taking on Billy Joel. I don’t think this performance was perfect, but in no way do I think it earned them a ticket back to Rochester.

   Urban Method deserved the axe, but the Yellowjackets got it instead. Thankfully, they took the whole affair with a light-heart and gave the best swan-song performance this show has ever seen. In recent episodes the swan-song has become something of a joke – a holdover from the time when the show needed to fill time because there were only eight groups. The Yellowjackets, by changing the lyrics and calling out the network, put a fun, inventive spin on saying goodbye that made me excited once again to see what groups might do as they walk out the door.

   Committed came back for a slot all to themselves, and while I didn’t like this performance on first listen, I find myself really digging it when I listened to it with headphones in. Many of the groups old tricks are here, and they sound as revelatory as ever. My question: Chris Brown? Really?

   Delilah killed it 2/3 of the time this week, which is good. They’re making a legitimate case for their reentry into the fold. I like them I do. Unfortunately they are one of many groups this week to suffer from a a weak female soloist on their second song. “Delilah” has some strong soloists in that girl-power army, but blonde girl with a doofy voice is not one of them. Also, “No One” would have been a better choice. That being said: this a group of very pretty girls, and they looked extremely fetching this week. On the other two Alicia Keys’ songs, their vocals more then matched the ferocity of their style choices.

   Lastly in this category, we have Vocal Point. I hesitated about putting them here. I really didn’t care for their take on Elvis very much, but I do think it’s a worthwhile listen. For me, the first song is a wash. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” is a gorgeous melody and I think I can admit they do it justice here without me being totally in love with their interpretation. As with “Jump Jive n’ Wail” this group does up-tempo well, so their “Jailhouse Rock” ricks in all the right ways.

Don’t bother

   It pains me to say this: Afro-Blue kind of sucked this week. Part of this is me not knowing Janet Jackson at all. I though I knew Janet Jackson; when they said Janet Jackson, I was like “Of course I know Janet Jackson, fool.” But then I realized I could not only not hum a Janet Jackson melody, I couldn’t even name a song. That being said, I liked the first number a lot. I didn’t need to know these songs – I just needed them to sound good. Then things got a bit too crazy. The scat solo seemed sudden and out-of-place. The swing section smelled of desperation. And Afro-Blue fell victim to the bug that seemed to being around this week: they had one female soloist who really stunk. White girl got praised by the judges, but I can confirm after repeated spins of this medley – she is off-key, her voice is nasally, and she has no swagger. I know she can do great harmony, I’ve heard her accompanist many a time and thought she was a valuable sixth (wo)man on this team. But every time she steps out for a solo I know I’m not going to like it, and she proves me right every time. Unfortunately, this jazzy medley probably isn’t worth your time unless you’re a completest.

   Afro-Blue was spared from the bottom spot by a truly uninspired decision from Urban Method, who I guess made a noble and brave stand but just ended up looking foolish for it.  Here’s the story: last week the group got mildly criticized for the female soloists not bringing enough heat on the chorus of “Airplanes.” Urban Method made it their mission to prove their girls could take center stage and blow the judges away with a Rihanna medley. How nice! Their problem: the girls really aren’t that good and Urban Method blew another opportunity to really bring the hip-hop (no Biggie, no Eminem, no Kanye?) so that they could show the judges their female singers are as average as the judge’s might have faintly suspected. Why confirm their suspicions? I don’t think Urban Method is that special, but the judges do. Why? Because of rapper Mike. So let Mike rap. Give the judge’s what they want. Instead, the group pushed Mike to the back and made this week’s performance a meta-commentary on team unity and girl power. And it was kind of hard to watch. My guess: they’ll be going home next.

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