When I first joined a cappella in college, it was a slightly nerdy club, but the members of my vocal group reveled in its cheesiness. We snapped, we (tried) to do vocal percussion, and we bopped along to our favorite top 40 radio hits. Then Glee took over prime-time television, and suddenly, we were cool.
Soon after, NBC saw the potential for a hit reality competition show, and thus The Sing Off was born. I was in the studio audience for a taping of season three (hey, I live in Hollywood, this is my life) and got to see the incredible group Pentatonix perform.
Although it was only mid-season at the time, the group was a clear frontrunner to win, and indeed, they were eventually crowned season champions, taking home $200,000 and a Sony recording contract. Imagine my joy when they kicked off their national tour right here at The Fonda Theater last Thursday, and I was able to see the group live surrounded by other a cappella-loving Los Angeleans!
I admit that every so often at shows, while enveloped by typical LA hipsters, I get self-conscious. I worry that they will somehow know that I’m not familiar with an aritst’s entire discography or they’ll notice that I’m not layered with enough vintage clothing. But that night at the Fonda, I felt right at home surrounded by a diverse crowd of teenagers, grandparents, and everything in between, demonstrating the expansive demographic Pentatonix reached via The Sing Off.
Pentatonix’s performance was full of popular covers, including many fan favorites from The Sing Off, and the setlist was a testament to the group’s commitment to staying up-to-date with current popular songs. They began in almost boy band fashion with the group members standing on high platforms and singing under pulsating lights. Bassist Avi Kaplan and vocal percussionist Kevin Olusola built up a thunderous opening as the group began “Save the World Tonight,” originally by Swedish House Mafia, and later Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hilarious “Thrift Shop” got the crowd cheering particularly loudly.
The group acknowledged that many fans came due to The Sing Off before beginning a medley of covers that blew audiences away on the third season of the show, including Katy Perry’s “E.T.” with Olusola creating synthesizer beats identical to real electronic sounds. They also performed “Video Killed the Radio Star” and a slow, powerfully drawn-out “Love Lockdown,” complete with robotic dance movements.
Although Pentatonix is comprised of only five members (most a cappella groups range from eight to twenty), each singer is so strong and musically gifted that five is all they need. Each member, from the sole female Kirstie Maldonado to the high-singing tenor Mitch Grassi, holds their respective parts so well, creating such air-tight harmonies that it’s hard to believe only five people can make such an impressive, full sound (though at one point Kaplan demonstrated his ability to sing two bass notes at once, revealing that sometimes there are more than five notes being sung).
The creativity and innovation of Pentatonix’s arrangements, combined with the group’s finely crafted dynamics, amplifies their five vocalists’ sound into one rivaling a massive choir. There are so many subtle changes and details in the arrangements that your brain struggles to keep up. The group may have sung mainly covers during their performance, but familiar songs sound like originals when Pentatonix performs them. The vocal acrobatics of charismatic frontman and lead vocalist Scott Hoying (previously of the USC’s SoCal Vocals) are nothing short of jaw-dropping, and his runs had older women in the audience swooning (gotta love a cappella).
Pentatonix then performed my favorite of their medleys, layering Justin Beiber’s “As Long As You Love Me” with Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” as Olusola pulled double duty, rapping and percussing simultaneously in the breakdown. An ‘N Sync medley followed as well as Beyonce’s “End Of Time” and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” (the group’s The Sing Off audition song).
Olusola then beat boxed while playing cello (the skill that brought him to the group’s attention), and Pentatonix began Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive” with his instrumental accompaniment. “Dog Days Are Over” followed, then Calvin Harris’ “Sweet Nothings” and Rihanna’s “You Da One.” They then brought a female fan onstage and sang an over-the-top version of “Let’s Get It On” while those in the crowd struggled to control themselves.
Pentatonix also sang a heartfelt original written by Kaplan that was a clear love letter to their fans in which they promised, “We will never let you down.” “Starships” closed the set along with last year’s hit “We Are Young” (originally by fun.), which included a sing along that was perfect for the audience.
Overall, it was an impressive show from a group that is incredibly performance-oriented and vocally talented. Their showmanship and arrangements matched the extraordinary talents featured on The Sing Off, and seeing those talents come to life was wholly satisfying and entertaining, no instruments necessary.
For more information on Pentatonix: