Last week, I finally got to see Cluster perform live. Coincidentally, it was my first time taking my 2-year-old and 5-year-old to an a cappella concert, and it seemed appropriate given the location at the Long Island Children’s Museum. Despite a 7:30 p.m. start time (when my kids normally go to bed), they actually made it through most of the show (my wife took them outside during the final number), and had a great time.
Now, I am typically pretty organized about preparing my thoughts after a concert, especially if I think I might review the show for this blog. Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a major work project-with-impending-deadline, and I was sitting next to two squirmy kids under the age of 6, so my ability to organize my thoughts was seriously hampered.
Here’s what I took from seeing Cluster live.
First, they immediately had to deal with adversity when at least one microphone was not working properly as they performed “Ti Sento” to open up the show. Check out why that could be problematic:
Right. In other words, it is a song which relies on, shall we say, some technology.
While the sound reinforcement situation was dealt with, the group opted to do two songs fully a cappella, meaning sans mikes. Out of a mess of fuzz and distortion came this beautiful, precise, delicate sound which was simply stunning. For the fourth song, they were back on the microphones and I was immediately impressed with their ability to respond and roll with the punches. Definite bonus points for degree of difficulty.
As they worked their way into their set, I noticed a few things. First, the group is versatile. All three guys are legitimate vocal percussionists or beatboxers in their own right. The ladies can sing haunting descants, shredding guitar solos, and everything in between. And as a collective unit, they can do songs like this
and they can do this
with a whole lot of other styles mixed in. The best demonstration of this flexibility was probably their medley of songs spanning their career, with hits from various pop categories over the past 25 years, which followed a great Count Basie medley. The critical fact is that they managed to make the setlist feel cohesive. Some groups wander through styles, trying them on like ill-fitting clothes, but while Cluster chose things that didn’t necessary seem right together, they made it look good.
Though I was a bit surprised by the repeated use of medleys, which have become something of a critical dumping ground in the modern American a cappella community, I don’t think anyone would object to the way Cluster did it, demonstrating their skill across genres and their energy as well.
Speaking of energy, we must talk for a moment about Erik Bosio, who is, simply put, a star. He is the kind of performer you can’t stop watching, both because of his likable stage personality and his passionate singing, which extends to every part or instrument he is singing. The only other a cappella singer I can think of as demonstrative and invested is Austin Willacy, and that (from my perspective) is high praise indeed.
While I’m making comparisons, the only group I can recall seeing who so successfully covered a range of styles while maintaining a singular identity of sound is probably Take 6. Not too bad.
I also have to mention Cluster’s tremendous skill in the “DJ” segment of the show, challenging themselves to speed up or slow down dramatically as led by Bosio’s cues, all while staying remarkably in tune. Very cool, and the first time I have seen it used to with such success.
While I am frustrated at the lack of video out there from this US mini-tour (to better illustrate my points), and my own lack of specific set details (e.g., songs), I know I walked out very impressed with the group’s success given the high degree of difficulty imposed upon (with the sound problems) and chosen by (style span, VP battle, and the DJ effect) them.
I’d also like to briefly mention Satellite Lane, who opened for Cluster at the LI Children’s Museum show. I helped these guys put on a benefit concert last year for Sandy relief on Long Island, and I have to say they have come a long way in less than a year. I know they won audience favorite at the Harmony Sweepstakes in NYC, and though I wasn’t able to attend, I can see why. They brought some authentic charm to the stage with a mixture of quirky originals (like this), and covers which were both silly and fun. I cannot tell you how long I have been waiting to hear a group use “It’s the End of the World As I Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by REM in a medley or mashup, and it was totally rewarding for me to hear it at last. They started strong musically, experienced some pitch issues on a slower tune, but then bounced right back and did a great job of engaging both children and adults in the audience. Great job, guys!
If anyone got any video or pictures from this US mini-tour, please feel free to post links in the comments!