Sorry this came a bit later this week than the past two…I had a family event going on last night, and thus I missed watching the show live. Thanks to the folks at Hulu, I was able to catch up on it both before and after work today. (There were of course a lot of ads, but eh, that comes with the territory.) Things started off strong last night with an incredible opening group performance of “Somewhere Only We Know” (by the severely underrated Keane). The group performances they have every week are always pretty stellar (how can you lose with a bunch of talented singers and some pretty nice song choices?), but this one, I think, may have been one of the best I’ve ever seen on the show. Every single soloist sounded terrific (the song really brought out their good qualities), the arrangement built in a very stunning way, and the harmonies were just…mmmm. So good. It’s a beautiful, emotional song, and the 6 groups (in unison) really brought those aspects of it out in such a terrific way. It showed them all off outstandingly, and I just loved it. Now, to the main part of the show…the individual performances (of which there were 2 for each group last night…one current hit, and one inexplicably from the 60s):
- Vocal Point (performing “Never Say Never” by
that one kid with the iconic hair and a legion of teenage girls obsessed with him and who pretty much sounds like a girl himself and wow, I am going to great lengths to not type his name here…OK, fine, Justin Bieber): I’m going to go with Ben here and say that I never thought I’d enjoy a group of Mormon guys singing Justin Bieber. (Or anybody, really, regardless of religion or gender in this case.) I’m also going to go with Ben here in that I really did enjoy this performance. It was tons and tons of fun…something that Vocal Point really seems to specialize in. I will say that the 1st soloist’s tone was a bit thin and that kind of detracted from the performance for me, and there were a few moments where the blend sounded kind of weak as well, but those are hopefully issues that won’t come up again for the group. Full disclosure: I got a kick out of the kicks the guys did towards the end. (See what I did there?) That was a fun touch. Also, per Sara Bareilles’ comment, I vote that Vocal Point be renamed the “Wholesome Thundercats” immediately. Who’s with me?… (*Crickets*)
- Delilah (performing “Whataya Want From Me” by Adam Lambert): Wow. Just wow. They really rocked it. The rehearsal package had me a bit scared, seeing as it was one of those pesky “we don’t know if we’ll be able to pull it off” things, and well, I got nervous, since Delilah did so well last week and they had a high bar to clear last night. Despite the high expectations, they really pulled it off with this performance. Building the arrangement the way they did…singer by singer…was an outstanding choice, and like the judges noted, it went miles in exposing the emotional core of the song. Kendall (formerly of high school group Eleventh Hour, from last season) has really grown as a vocalist in many ways, and she nailed the opening solo, I thought. Delilah also showed some great depth on the bench…Amy didn’t even come in until the late-middle part of the song, and yet it never felt like it was missing anything, because the other soloists were holding their own and getting their chance to shine. (I do agree with Sara that Amy was just a tiny bit sharp at times, but it didn’t really detract from the performance, I thought.) It was a tour de force and showed a bit of a different side of Delilah than last time, and it showed that this group really has the potential to be the first all-female ensemble to make it to the finals, even with such heavy competition this season.
- Urban Method (performing “Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-Eyed Peas): There were a lot of things I really, really liked about this performance. The female lead who started off the song was just pitch-perfect. It was so nuanced, distinctive, beautifully sung, and sultry…I actually said out loud right after she finished, the following: “Wow, her voice is sexy.” The other lead vocalist, Troy, also showed some very impressive range, and I thought he did a great job and really brought power to the song. The ‘studio’ effects in the arrangement were also evident as they were in their previous number, and those were nice touches. That said…the rap part hung me up again. This time around, it wasn’t as integral to the song as it was in their last performance (“Love The Way You Lie” is at its heart a true rap song, and a rap song with a message. “Just Can’t Get Enough” could have the rap part removed and it wouldn’t change it much at all), and it just felt tacked-on at the end. I’m just not a rap fan, too, so as long as rap’s a part of Urban Method’s act, they’re going to be a tough sell for me at times. I also didn’t dig their abominably cheesy choreography…Troy and the female vocalist holding hands throughout was silly, and that weird moment where he bent down to her midriff area was awkward. That said, I really enjoyed this performance (rap aside), and I thought it was a lot better than “Love The Way You Lie.”
- Afro-Blue (performing “American Boy” by Estelle): I was quite impressed by Afro-Blue the first week (as you can probably tell by my gushing about them in that episode’s recap), but even though I came into last night a huge fan of them, I was blown away by their take on “American Boy.” (In fact, it would be accurate for me to just fill this portion of the recap with Shawn’s speechless, excited reaction to the performance, which I wish I could properly replicate here.) The opening, where they were all sitting in little groups and the lead vocalist (well, one of them, I believe they used a few) was scatting and the bass was imitating an upright, was just so dang cool. From there, it only got better, as they built in such a terrific way, just slaying a jazzy arrangement of the song, and then shifting to a more modern feel (effortlessly, I might add) at the end that really brought the performance home. It was inventive, it was smooth, the vocals were amazing, the choreography was classy, everything just worked. In other circumstances it might have been hyperbole for Shawn to say that there was nothing wrong with the performance. In this case, though, it was spot-on.
- Yellowjackets (performing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz): You may remember in my Week 1 recap how I expressed my mixed feelings about the Yellowjackets, and how they may be my college group to irrationally dislike this year. That feeling was pretty much cemented this week, I have to admit. This performance just felt like too much at once…the arrangement was certainly trying too hard, and the Yellowjackets didn’t quite have the finesse to hold it together. The “everything but the kitchen sink” approach has worked well for some groups in the past…for example, take Street Corner Symphony’s rollicking version of “Down On The Corner” last season…but it just didn’t gel for me here. Instead of getting excited over the change to a Latin groove at the very end (I love those kinds of things), I just groaned. The arrangement felt disjointed, the soloist wasn’t quite up to scratch, and the blend was off and a bit thin. Any energy the performance had felt like it was coming from the song itself and not from the group nailing anything particularly well, I thought. (Could I be making this stuff up? I don’t think so, but possibly. Maybe I’m just programmed to hate male college groups that aren’t Vocal Point…but it’s my blog, so I can nitpick if I want to. :))
- Kinfolk 9 (performing “Price Tag” by Jessie J): I thought Kinfolk 9 did a great job here, and developed on some of the potential that they showed last time around. The song did feel a little sleepy in the first half, as the judges noted, and I think that was due to the song choice. “Price Tag” is a fun song, but the groove is kind of static and low-key, and so it’s hard to translate the vibe that it carries into an a cappella setting without it sounding too bland. However, the performance kicked off nicely in the latter half, and there were some really cool harmonic moments throughout. The arrangement had some nice touches, and Kinfolk 9 showed off a better blend…but I think it still needed to be a little bit more distinctive. I couldn’t quite get the grasp of their sound just yet, and that’s something important for the listener to have when it comes to a group using just their voices.
Now, on to the 60s portion of our evening (how silly was it that Nick changed outfits for it? He’s a funny one, that Nick Lachey…):
- Delilah (performing “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave by Martha & the Vandellas): This performance kind of flew by me for some reason. The harmonies, I thought, were tight, it was fun, and it worked very effectively. I didn’t quite agree with the judges in their sentiment that it wasn’t quite up to scratch for Delilah’s usual standard, but I will say that it seemed a bit different from what they’ve done so far. It was kind of a stylistic 180, and maybe it would have been cool to see the group put a little modern flair on the song, though they really nailed the 60s atmosphere, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. A small nitpick: Kendall didn’t shine as much on this song, I thought, as she did on “Whataya Want From Me.” I think she’s a bit stronger in the ballads, but she wasn’t bad here, I suppose. (P.S.: Nick’s 98 degrees pun was, as things tend to be with him, incredibly cheesy, but I got a chuckle out of it. Even though he’s like a fish out of water sometimes when he attempts to ad lib, it’s still fun to see him go off script once in a while. Especially when said script features more stale plays on words than a recap written by yours truly. :))
- Urban Method (performing “Dance To The Music” by Sly & The Family Stone): I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t see this coming at all. Urban Method broke free of the rapping for the first time this competition, and I’m pretty sure it was one of my favorite performances of the night, hands down. I was completely, utterly impressed. The arrangement was just so inventive, the vibe was a party, and they nailed so many different aspects of it…the vocals, the choreography, the blend…that there wasn’t really any nagging issues that might have taken away from the overall effect. Ben was astute in noticing that this song pretty much has only one chord, and that Urban Method really did wonders in expanding on that one chord in numerous, exciting ways. He also noted that it really sounded like the group had a band backing them up, which I totally agree with. There was so much sound, and it was executed to a T, and you really couldn’t tell that there were no actual instruments. I know the “rapapella” concept is Urban Method’s hook, but this performance showed that without rap in the mix, they really shine…and I wish they would keep it out as much as possible in the future, because I think I love them much better that way.
- Vocal Point (performing “The Way You Look Tonight” by pretty much every jazz singer & their dog, but arguably most famously by Frank Sinatra): (Yes, I like to split hairs sometimes in my song descriptions. :)) Now this is how you handle an “everything but the kitchen sink” arrangement. Vocal Point changed grooves in this performance like they were changing their socks, but it never felt anything but seamless…the deliciously smooth lead vocal, along with the group’s killer blend, kept this sleek jazz-fueled train chugging along at an exhilarating rate. (And Brandon has officially let his metaphors run away with him. What else is new?) I was literally smiling throughout this performance…broadly. Very broadly. It was tons of fun, it was polished but not stiff, and it just popped and sparked and had lots of life. Simply put: I loved it.
- Afro-Blue (performing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye): I don’t get what the judges were expressing about this arrangement being too ambitious, really. I thought it was innovative in just the right ways…it turned the song on its ear, but was tightly executed enough for things to not fall apart. The lead male vocalist nailed things, and that transition to a very modern groove at the end was 1-800-Absolutely Delicious, with a cool repeating end tag by the ladies to boot. It was the kind of performance and take on a song (a 60s classic, mind you) that for me, kind of went beyond this competition…it showed that Afro-Blue has a future outside performing random covers on a TV show…that they have the potential to make truly engaging music.
- Yellowjackets (performing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli): (Note to Nick Lachey and whoever wrote his script…this song was around LONG before “Jersey Boys” ever came to Broadway.) Was this probably the Yellowjackets’ best performance to date? Probably. Was the Aaron-loves-Sara-somewhat-obsessively angle a hoot? Certainly. (During the 60s intro package where the group pointed out that he’s in love with Sara Bareilles, I blurted out, “Who ISN’T in love with Sara Bareilles?” Also, Aaron, back off. She’s mine. :)) But, as pretty much everything by the Yellowjackets is now doomed to be, it just didn’t click for me. The arrangement was fun and very energetic (and for once, that can’t be completely attributed to the song, since although this is an upbeat number, it doesn’t bring down the house on its own by any means), but there were some blend/intonation problems that it exposed. If the competition wasn’t so stiff, the Yellowjackets might have been able to coast with me on what they have, but it’s just not cutting it. Being a ‘fun’ college group full of guys isn’t enough for this competition, and I have no idea why it seems to be for the judges.
- Kinfolk 9 (performing “Let It Be” by the Beatles): I agree with Ben, Sara, and Shawn that this was definitely Kinfolk 9’s best performance to date. Moi delivered a passionate, beautiful lead (with some nice runs that expanded on Paul McCartney’s iconic original vocal), and the harmonies behind him were strong and complemented the whole effect very nicely. Kinfolk 9 brought the sound in a way they haven’t thus far, and it really built into an excellent performance, full of heart and soul, but also not too short on technical skill.
- So who went home? This is where it gets to be a bummer. The Yellowjackets were called safe the same time as Afro-Blue did (bittersweet…), and thus Delilah and Kinfolk 9 were the last two groups standing. In my mind, I knew Delilah had to stay, as they’ve certainly given a stronger body of work thus far, and they’re the only all-female group in the competition to boot…but it was hard to see one of these groups getting cut. Kinfolk 9 was really starting to grow into their potential last night, and I wish they had gotten more time to do so…but hopefully this can be a springboard to greater things in the future. (P.S.: Their swan song was WEIRD. I guess I’m not too familiar with Beck’s work…which makes sense, I’ve heard his name and his fine guitar playing, but not much of his solo catalog…but I was quite bewildered by the strange lyrics and the lack of much melody. Moi really sold it, though.)
Last night was an incredibly solid bunch of performances, and this competition feels like it’s just heating up. (There’s still 3 more weeks of the two-bracket division, I believe, before all the groups combine together and the gauntlet is really thrown down. This will be interesting.) As always, we close with a poll, and see you soon with more posting, and more recapping: