So, I lied. I was planning not to recap this, but I knew that I’d probably end up doing so anyway. And I did. Blame the live-tweeting I started doing spur-of-the-moment, and ended up continuing throughout the whole show. It was my gateway drug. And now I’ve mentioned drugs in the first paragraph. Go me?
Anyways, since this wasn’t a competition night, I plan to keep this concise and fairly short, since I don’t have any who-should-win/who-shouldn’t-win related rants to make for the most part, and well, otherwise there’d be quite a lot of gushing. And in the case of certain groups and soloists (you know exactly who), some heavy criticism. So let’s “Sing-Off Christmas” it up…
- Nota, Committed, & Pentatonix (“Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]”): I’m not really going to bother too much with listing the original artist this time around, since this is meant to be a low-key blogging affair, and also I’m going off my live tweets/short-term memory for song titles and group combos. (Watchful commenters, if there are any of you out there, feel free to correct any mistakes.) Pairing the 3 champion groups was a killer way to start the show. All 3 reminded us why they’re champs, and it was great to see them all do their thing.
- The Backbeats & Delilah (“All I Want For Christmas Is You”): It’s hard to beat the iconic Mariah Carey original, or Michael Buble’s recent game-changing cover, but this powerhouse duo of groups delivered a terrific version of this song anyhow. It was great to see some of my old favorites like Joanna (the amazing Backbeats soloist from last season), Amy (well, I guess she hasn’t been gone for long, but I still missed her), and of course, she-who-can-beatbox-and-sing-like-nobody’s-business, the amazingly talented Courtney Jensen. (She got a solo! She got a solo!) Witness the following tweet below (the Backbeats retweeted me! And a bunch of other fans too, but still…):
- Dartmouth Aires (“All You Need Is Love”): Wherever Paul and Ringo (and for that matter, George and John) are right now, if they’ve heard even a whiff of this, they’re probably weeping. (With their guitars. Gently.) The arrangement was cutesy and lightweight, so on its own that wouldn’t have been too much of an affront to the Fab Four’s legacy, but then…Michael had to open his mouth, and deliver a vocal that neither fit the song nor sounded appealing in any way, shape, or form. The good news was that they spread the love and let some lesser-known group members have some solos during this song as well, but the bad news was that they all failed to rise to the occasion. All in all…a performance that made me very, very happy that after tonight, the Aires will be off my TV for good, and I won’t have to hear them ever again.
- Afro-Blue & Committed (“Ooh Child”): Oh sweet mercy, was this incredible. I love this song (Nnenna Freelon’s spirited cover is pure musical gold), and the killer combo of two of the show’s greatest groups (you’ve got that right, Nick Lachey!), Afro-Blue & Committed, was a perfect choice to take it on. The performance moved, it grooved, it proved (hey, just warming myself up for the Grinch song later) that jazz is alive and here to stay. Heck, I was quite literally bouncing around on my couch with the music. The arrangement was daringly intricate, fearlessly vibrant, and full of the perfect balance of complexity and accessibility (along with a sense of fun and joy) that made Committed the champs last season, and Afro-Blue such favorites this season. Ben was spot-on when he noted that Afro-Blue & Committed really have set the “Sing-Off” standard.
- Street Corner Symphony (“Hallelujah”): How great it is to see Street Corner Symphony back! As noted above (and in my Season 2 recaps), I was thrilled to see Committed take the crown last year, but I would have been just as tickled to see it go to the endlessly terrific SCS. With an assist from killer lead Jeremy Lister’s older brother Jonathan (of the Collectives, a bit more on their performance later), they delivered a beautifully poignant, gorgeously intimate take on “Hallelujah,” a song that’s been covered by everyone and their dog, and at this point, probably even their dog’s dog, but when done right is still breathtaking to listen to. Jeremy’s vocal was emotional and direct, and the arrangement was top-notch. If this is what “unpracticing” brings for SCS, we all need to try it out, methinks.
- North Shore (“Little Saint Nick”): A classy, solid take on the Beach Boys’ holiday classic. It was great to see North Shore get a performance of their own (they’re pros through and through), and like many of their previous performances, this was kept simple and direct, and that really helped hit it home. These guys may not be completely fresh or innovative, but they’re full of heart and have years of valuable experience, and I always really enjoy seeing and listening to them. Here’s hoping we see more of them soon.
- Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, & ‘The Sing-Off Five’ (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”): The pre-performance video segment was worth the price of admission itself (Sara Bareilles & Ben Folds are secretly comic geniuses…I want to see them pretend they don’t like each other and talk behind each other’s backs more often), and had me in stitches. However, things got even better…the song that followed was equally brilliant. I noted on Twitter that this is one of the freshest versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I’ve heard in years, and I stand by that. There’s a lot of nice covers of this song, but in pretty much every one of them, the vocalists play it safe. Sara took some great liberties with the melody that really put a new spin on the song, while keeping the appeal it’s had for decades. Ben also rocked the vocals, as well as some top-notch piano work, and the addition of The Sing-Off Five (a little vocal backing band stocked with five talented guys) was a nice touch. Sweet mama, was this both entertaining and musically delicious. Another tweet break, with an amusing post-song exchange between the awkward-as-always Nick, and charming-as-always Sara:
- Pentatonix (“Under The Mistletoe”): Ha, remember when I said I was going to try to keep this short? Silly Brandon. Brevity is for kids. Anyways, this performance made me realize two things: 1) This is quite possibly one of the most badly written holiday songs ever recorded. I never, ever, ever, ever, EVER want to hear the Bieber’s original version of this, because hearing it done well was lyrical torture enough. (Did the bridge honestly combine a reference to the wise men and the Christmas star with a line about how [s]he followed his heart to a girl, or was I hallucinating? If either of these are the case, gag me now.) 2) Pentatonix can make anything sound terrific. You’d think after a season’s worth of cutting-edge arrangements that they’d run out of steam, especially with such subpar material, but they brought their signature Pentatonix sound to this lump-of-coal-esque number, and I loved it.
- Jerry Lawson & The Sing-Off All Stars (“Sweet Soul Music”): It was a little bit strange that the Talk of the Town was absent tonight, but I wasn’t complaining…the collection of singers that were assembled to sing with Jerry was quite breathtaking. Jerry, as always, was pure class, and it was a celebration of the classic and the new, all at the same time. Sweet soul music, indeed.
- I don’t want to talk about this next one.
- I really don’t.
- OK, fine…The
Devil ChildrenBeelzebubs, On The Rocks & Darmouth Aires (“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” supposedly): Here’s one of my tweets after the song in question. It captures my thoughts pretty succinctly (though you know me, I’m going to type more anyways):
- (continued) So yeah. I just couldn’t get into this performance at all. Even On The Rocks, who I enjoyed last season for the most part, really bugged me here. The ‘fun’ seemed all manufactured. The pitch and intonation…well, let’s not even go there. The solos ranged from depressingly weak (Michael, obviously, and Brendan, though the latter’s vocal was a step up from his usual fare) from OK (the Beelzebubs’ middling soloist) to pretty good, but not enough to save the whole performance (Peter Hollens, the frontman of On the Rocks would fit that description). From what I can see, almost all male collegiate a cappella groups are turning into this utterly affected frat party-esque goofy mess, and it’s not something I enjoy at all. The music is supposed to come first, and the fun second. If you truly pay attention to the music, it’ll often be entertaining on its own. When you take it the other way around like these three groups did tonight, the performance, and the ensemble as a whole, ends up being neither truly musical, nor truly fun, and it’s a real bummer to see that this is a large part of the future of a cappella music. Thankfully it’s not the only part.
- Urban Method (“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”): OK, I’m off my soapbox, and from here on out, there should be a minimum of ranting. This performance was a real treat…and a demonstration of how Urban Method has really come into their own. At the start of the season, if Urban Method had put a rap into a song like this, I would have probably hated it. Tonight, however, I loved it. A rap in a song like this? You’d think it wouldn’t work. (Busta Rhymes’ ghastly version with Jim Carrey from the 2001 “Grinch” movie is very convincing evidence to that regard.) However, Myke pulled it off brilliantly, and the arrangement as a whole was pretty exciting and well-played (the samba-style breakdown towards the end was a highlight). The solo by the
bass (aargh, I was doing so well with the names this late in the season!)(Troy, whose name I now remember thanks to…ahem, I mean, nothing to see here, nothing at all) was perfect, and it was just fresh and tons of fun.
- Nota & Shawn Stockman (“This Christmas”): Shawn got his chance to shine tonight after staying at the judges’ table during last week’s finale, and even with some lines in Spanish to contend with, he did quite well. He was accompanied by the sweet sounds of Nota, and they were all on top of their game, really bringing this song (one of my absolute Christmas favorites) home. I loved the arrangement, and really, I loved everything about it. Nota and Shawn both have still got game, yo.
- The Collective (“Santa Baby”): To tell the truth, this was the only performance of the night I didn’t tweet about (I didn’t have much interesting to say about it at the time), and I’m kind of guessing where it was in the night’s order. It was…alright, I suppose. Ruby did a nice job on the solo, but it wasn’t Eartha Kitt (or even Madonna). This is a hard song to reinvent (the basic premise is pretty much set in stone…a sultry, tongue-in-cheek entreaty to Santa for really, really expensive things), and if anything, the Collective, while talented, is still a bit unfocused as a group to really do so. It was good, but nothing to write home about…that said, the group still has tons of potential, and once they start fulfilling it to the utmost, they will soar.
- Vocal Point & Nick Lachey (“Let It Snow”): So, so outstanding. THIS is how a collegiate male a cappella group does it. It was all so smooth, so entertaining, so effortless and classy. The surprise addition of Nick into the mix was a fun bonus, and there were even some great staging touches, like the snow falling on the stage (probably because I’m a snowaholic, I LOVE when that happens on TV shows/concerts/etc.), and the group making snow angels afterwards. The following tweet (by the way, did you know I’m on Twitter? If not, you definitely do now…) relays my feelings about this gem quite perfectly:
- Urban Method, Pentatonix, & some clown named Flo Rida (“Good Feeling”): This performance was a tale of two
citiesmusical elements: on one hand, we had some killer harmonies (and deliciously daring reinventions) by Urban Method & Pentatonix, two groups that really should get together more often, because they rocked it here. On the other hand, however, we have the abysmal Flo Rida, who I really haven’t cared for before tonight, and I really didn’t care for tonight either. (I will give him credit, though, he didn’t seem detached from the proceedings like Smokey Robinson did last week…he seemed to actually be performing with the groups and enjoying it, rather than performing and happening to have the groups on stage with him, so that’s a plus.) I might be possessed to shell out money for this on iTunes simply by virtue of the Urban Method/Pentatonix part of the performance alone, but really, Mr. Rida (sorry, just wanted to see how weird it would look if I called him that) added precious little to the performance, other than the fact that this is of course his song.
- All The Groups (“Happy Christmas [War Is Over]”): (Programming note: I am aware the official title uses “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” but I HATE the former abbreviation, since it replaces Christ with an X, so I always write the word out properly. Sorry, John and Yoko, but I have to stick to my guns.) And now that I’ve gone entirely off-topic…this was nice. Not perfect by any means…they just HAD to give Michael a solo, and there was 1-800-Too Much Riffing at the end. Still, it was wonderful to see fourteen (fourteen!) groups from all 3 seasons take the stage together. There’s something really special about that, especially for a series-long “Sing-Off” fan such as myself. It reminded me of exactly why I love this show so much…there’s so much talent, and friendship, and good music, that I can never stay away. (Even when I say I’m not going to recap an episode, and then I do. Ahem.)
To close, a farewell tweet from a devoted “Sing-Off” fan, Twitter buddy, and fellow #AiresHater, which expresses a sentiment I share:
It’s been an amazing season. Hopefully there’ll be more to come. For now, thanks once again for reading, for following me and my recaps these past few months, and I hope you’ll stick around.