“The Sing-Off” Recap, Episode 4: Let’s Stay Together
Well, this was an interesting episode, wasn’t it? I think I loved it. Basically. Aw heck, I’m just going to jump into things. FYI, not one, but two polls after the recap, one about who you think will win, and who you want to win. (And dang, I’ll have to pick a favorite. This. Is. Too. HARD…) This time, I’ll split the recap into rounds rather than groups, since methinks that works a little better for the way this particular episode was structured.
- On The Rocks (with an Elton John medley): I was torn on this one tonight. It brought back some of the things that make On The Rocks enjoyable and fun to watch…their zippy performance energy, clever choreography, and strength in numbers (well, I guess they really hadn’t ever lost that last one, unless they killed someone off and then brought them back to life… )…but it also had some weird moments where the harmonies weren’t quite as straight-out perfect as they should have been, and although I actually liked the arrangement for the most part, at times it didn’t quite serve them very well. (There’s also the fact that the first song of the medley basically repeats “b—-” over and over and over again, but we’ll put the blame for that one on Mr. John and Mr. Taupin.) It was a good recovery from the weak pair of songs they performed on Monday night, but it wasn’t quite good enough for me. It was nice, though, to see them return to form a bit.
- Committed (with an Usher medley): Given the kind of in-your-face nature of the Usher repertoire (good heavens, did I just use the phrase “Usher repertoire”? Hmmm…) has, this medley couldn’t help seeming a little frenetic, but the absolutely gorgeous harmonies of Committed, combined with their understated but palplable energy (yeah, I’m totally trying to make up for that “Usher repertoire” thing ), really sold this performance for me. There was a weird chord somewhere in the first song, but aside from that, it was wall-to-wall good sounds, good blend, good stuff. They made Usher sound cool. And delicious. And fun. And accessible. (Apparently 90% of the sentences in this recap are going to be only two words?) A nice job by the boys from Alabama.
- Street Corner Symphony (with a Beatles medley): I totally saw that John Lennon-lookalike comment directed towards one of the members of the group (sadly, don’t know his name off the top of my head) coming. It’s uncanny! Anyways…I have to admit this wasn’t my absolute favorite performance by SCS. I was expecting amazing things from them (one of my favorite groups in the competition coupled with one of my favorite bands of all time? Heck yes), and I got…great things, but not quite amazing, it seemed. It started off great with “Eleanor Rigby,” but didn’t quite gel. “Help!” really took off, I thought, but then “Hey Jude” lacked a little punch for me. It was probably the one song in the medley (and in fact, in the entire season for Street Corner Symphony) where the lack of instruments was pretty apparent. It didn’t kick as much as it should have…which is weird, since we know that SCS can really bring the sound. So I wasn’t in love with their Beatles medley, but I really liked it. And it definitely was not a performance worthy of elimination, that’s for sure. After all, every great musician or group has at least one slip-up, no?
- The Backbeats (with a Lady Gaga medley): The judges’ fairly enthusiastic praise for this song kind of threw me. I didn’t hate it…but I was expecting them to go to town on it. “Poker Face” felt kind of rushed, and I wasn’t really digging the soloist. “Paparazzi” really did come together, and I really liked the Joanna-led female solo trio thing. The last song (“Just Dance,” yes?) kind of felt a little thin, though, and once again, not a particularly appealing soloist. It felt like there were a few pitch issues, and the whole thing felt kind of garish and overblown. But…the judges really did help put it into perspective, I think, with their comments about how the material was pretty tough to pull off in an a cappella setting. Lady Gaga’s music is very electronically driven, there’s a lot of complex beats and everything (not saying the songs are necessarily that complex, but the mountain of stuff behind them is very layered…all the drum beats and loops and whatever else goes into it), and most importantly, although Lady Gaga has one heck of a voice, her studio-recorded music is often pretty Auto-Tuned. That makes it an uphill battle to recreate all that in a setting sans instrumentation, and while the Backbeats’ Lady Gaga medley didn’t quite take with me then, in hindsight, they did a solid job with what they were given. It still was probably my least favorite performance of theirs, though.
- Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town (Otis Redding medley): I feel like I’m saying this pretty much every time with Jerry and the boys, but once again…this was solid, classy, and full of soul and heart. There were a few tiny weird moments…maybe it was the pitch, maybe it was the blend (but probably not, since their blend is very locked in and great to listen to), but it wasn’t perfect. Still, the fact that Jerry & Talk of the Town are always able to sound good, even if they aren’t quite as current as the other groups, is a testament to their talent. Can I see them winning yet? Not really. But I certainly couldn’t see them getting eliminated with this performance, either.
- The First Elimination: None of the groups really spectacularly did badly in this round, so I wasn’t sure where the judges were going to go with this. Thankfully, they made the logical decision and sent the fun, but slightly faltering, On The Rocks home. Whatever their shortcomings were in the competition, that was one of the classiest, coolest exits on the show this season. One of the group members making a cheeky farewell speech, featuring every single one of the judges’ and host’s names, was brilliant. Plus I loved how their ‘swan song’ was “The Final Countdown.” (Probably the cheesiest song ever, but you gotta love it.) The best of luck to y’all, On The Rocks.
- Committed: Smooth. Subtle. Beautiful harmonies. Laid-back approach, but it never seemed phoned-in. Full of soul and flavor. Terrific falsetto on the solos. The group’s placement on the stools definitely added to their performance. All in all…an outstanding job, and a performance definitely worthy of the finals. That’s pretty much all their is to it. (Oh, and the song was “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. Sorry I left that part out… )
- Street Corner Symphony: “Down On The Corner” was definitely a fine choice for SCS by the judges, and it also gave them an opportunity to insert their group name into the lyrics. OK, besides that…wow. Awesome, awesome performance. I agree with the judges that it really built up naturally and beautifully, and that the group did a terrific job of keeping their take on the song both reverent to the original, and strikingly fresh and modern and unique. Tons of those harmonies were simply stunning. This is why I love Street Corner Symphony, y’all. This is why.
- The Backbeats: As you’ve probably noticed, I hadn’t been feeling the past few performances by the Backbeats quite as much as I had their one-two punch of “If I Were A Boy” and “Breakeven” on the first two nights of the competition. It’s not that they’re one-note…they can do uptempo stuff exceptionally well. It’s just that they really have a magic formula with their ballads. They’re emotional, they’re strong, they’re absolutely gorgeous…they aren’t just good, not even just great…they simply blow me away. “Landslide” tonight was no exception. The choice to keep it simple and go for the more guitar-driven feel of the original (and of most of the covers I’ve heard of the song) was an excellent call, and putting Joanna back at the lead vocals was a great choice. I loved how she stayed mostly in her lower register tonight for this number, but still delivered a strong, assured vocal. She never lost any of the notes, and never sounded like they were a stretch. What’s more, she once again brought an emotional interpretation to the song. It’s not necessarily that it feels like she’s telling a story…in fact, far from that. I think it’s more that she shows her commitment to the lyric and to the melody, and that way the listener is able to paint their own picture to go with the music, and feed off that commitment and feel a strong, palpable emotional response. Shawn’s comment that you could “see the sound” and that you could close your eyes and hear the beauty in it was very spot-on. (Also, I thought Kenton’s vocal-cello bit was pretty cool and added to the effect of the arrangement. Something he doesn’t annoy me at! Maybe he’s cut out to be a vocal-instrument-imitator? ) The Backbeats may have had a few ups and downs (at least for me personally), but this performance really played to their strengths and showed why they’re still in the competition.
- Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town: Going into this performance, after seeing what a terrific job the first three groups had done this round, I have to admit I was a bit ready to write Jerry & the Talk off. That feeling didn’t last long. The fact that Jerry & the boys were able to take a song like “House of the Rising Sun” (which is about prostitution, no less) and, almost effortlessly, turn it into a soulful, beautiful, subtly powerful gospel-style number…that’s true artistry, right there. I just couldn’t find much to dislike about this performance. It hit all the right notes. (For once, that pun was not intended. ) Say what you want about how the judges have been ignoring the group’s shortcomings (I agree, they have at some points), but this was just plain great music. And if I hear great music, guess what? I’m going to love it.
- The Second Elimination: Committed & Street Corner Symphony were announced safe, and my heart was at peace. But then I wondered who the heck the judges were going to eliminate afterwards, seeing as all four performances in the judges’ choice round were top-notch. Let’s go to what Nick said at that point (perhaps a bit paraphrased, I can’t remember it exactly verbatim): “And moving on to the finals…The Backbeats!” (pause while I expressed my happiness, and my grandma, a recent convert to the show as of tonight, expressed her disappointment at Jerry & Talk of the Town not moving…wait, Nick’s talking again?) “and Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town!” Whoa. Did not see that coming. I had expressed my sentiments before the elimination started that I wished all four groups could move on…but I had no illusions that that would seriously happen. I definitely think it was the right choice. All four groups delivered their very best and then some in the second round tonight, and whatever my feelings about them beforehand, there was simply no clear choice for elimination tonight after those 4 great performances. This will make voting for the finale pretty dang intense…but we’ll see what happens. I’ve grown to love all four of the final groups, so although I certainly have my favorites, whoever wins…earned it.
Before I poll it up for you to give me your picks for the winners (and who you think will win)…here’s my final take:
My picks to win are either Street Corner Symphony or Committed. Both of them have delivered inventive, strong, delightful performances throughout the episodes, and they both have a unique group identity that makes them ideal recipients for the grand prize (a recording contract with Sony, and of course $100,000). I just can’t choose between them, dang it. I’ll probably close my eyes and point to one of them when I vote in the poll below. (Don’t even ask me how I’m going to distribute my call-in votes yet… ) The Backbeats & Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town are terrific, and like I said, I would be fine with them winning…but I have to go with SCS and Committed for the win. Let me know what you think in the comments! Plus be sure to vote in the polls, and to subscribe, so you won’t miss a beat (OK, that pun was intended) here on Harmony Avenue. See you soon with some more new posts, and next Monday with my recap of “The Sing-Off” finale! (P.S.: I CAN’T WAIT FOR SARA BAREILLES! Sorry. But I honestly audibly shrieked at her name in the promo for the finale after the show. No joke. )