Tonight’s episode is called “#1 Hits,” and it only features half of the remaining groups. The opening number is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, covered probably hundreds of times over the years, beginning in the early nineties. My group performed the song in the mid-90’s, and then again in the late ’90’s, and now they just whip it out whenever they need another song to fill time. It’s ubiquitous.
The half-cast performance is good, I particularly like the huge gospel-y “Your Eyes” towards the end, but otherwise I don’t find anything particularly unique or exciting about this arrangement. It’s not bad (far from it), but I’ve literally heard a hundred versions of the song and I don’t think this one will stand out in any way except for the bridge which I never heard before. As Warren Bloom pointed out in his recap here, this is an alternate extended version of the song which I did not know exists.
First up is “Ten,” performing “Chain of Fools.” It starts off nice and sultry, with a thick groove in the bass and drums. I like that little guitar riff, but the rest of the backs are a little off the mark in the first 30 or so seconds, but then it settles in nicely. When the backing singers drop out, the naked exposure works and then they come back in with some power. The speed up is a little disconcerting to me, and it feels like the train is starting to derail but at the same time it is exhilarating. They finish strong, and prove they can do this a cappella thing. Shawn obviously loved it, and I agree with him that the song could have used another minute just to achieve a complete thing, but obviously the groups are working with the time constraints. Ben’s right- they’re dangerous.
The AcousiKats are here to perform “Amazed,” to which Shawn responds that his group was offered it but declined because they had “too many hit records.” Wow.
When they start singing, I think “Ok, it’s been awhile since we had an all-male group do the ballad thing on the show. I’m in.”
Unfortunately, I was quickly “out” on it. I just found it a little boring; it’s not bad, I just think the bar for male group ballads is really high, and they didn’t sound any different from a dozen groups singing similar songs that I’ve heard over the years. Of course, none of the judges (except maybe Ben) has heard the same volume of me, so maybe the power of the guy ballad was just overwhelming to them. Frankly, when Ben says they distinguished themselves from the hundreds of other male groups, I’m skeptical. The solo was strong, the group was relatively in tune, but it wasn’t really moving or exciting for me.
The proposal- my wife called it as soon as he called her out of the audience. She would- I proposed to her that way. I give Mike props though for speaking truth through humor- basses (except Home Free) don’t get to sing lyrics and sadly, are rarely actually listening to the solo at all. I know it’s a cliche, but it does represent something that plenty of a cappella guys do, or at least think about doing, and so it does represent our community in a certain way. I’m not embarrassed, and Mike shouldn’t be either. Plus, I think he probably bought them another week with that stunt. 😉
Which brings us to Street Corner Renaissance…I think they’re the other candidate for the bottom two and the most likely group to leave. Their singing of “Forget You” in the background is already out of tune, so I’m worried. I like these guys, I have no problem with them staying as long as there are similarly one-dimensional groups left, but I’m not sure there are at this point. The ‘Kats showed their flexibility, regardless of my thoughts about the performance of the ballad. Element might qualify as one-dimensional, but they’re not on tonight and I’m not sure yet. Ten may be one-dimensional, but they can wail and provoke some response in the listener, which brings us back to SCR. I like these guys, I like doo wop, but it doesn’t really provoke much in people who came after the baby boomer generation. The harmonies are pure and simple, but rarely raw or emotional.
They sang the song well, adapted it well, it had some personality, but again…not exceptional or raw in any way.
Last up, we have a far more dynamic group to this point- The Filharmonic.
I like these guys, they tackle modern music with interesting perspective. I really like the guy commenting about ear worms/hooks because… this is a big thing with me (see here). They are charming and funny in the package, and I still think they’re a legit contender both in terms of musicality and personality.
Shawn’s idea is for them to get more aggressive/edgy with staccato- I’m curious to see how they take/execute that.
I like the beginning, the drums are a bit close to losing control with that crazy double-kick thing, but it still sounds kinda cool. I like the space they’re leaving but they have to be careful. Nice bass fill into the chorus, which is punchy and full. The bridge loses it a little towards the end, but they just barely pull off the modulation, and then they end strong. I dig it, I think this was another solid performance from them.
I think Ben and Jewel are a little harsh on these guys, which they acknowledge, but I don’t think that means they were in the bottom 2. Then again, I didn’t think VoicePlay should have been in the bottom two on episode 1, and they were. Perhaps the judges use this as a motivating factor, because VoicePlay came back way stronger in episode 2. If so, maybe they’ll scare The Filharmonic to knock them up a notch. If they’re playing it straight, the bottom two groups are clearly Street Corner Renaissance and the AcoustiKats.
And, I was once again partly right. I think the judges are just trying to scare The Filharmonic into pushing themselves. Or trying to taunt/bate the audience. Because there’s no way The Filharmonic were worse than the ‘Kats.
Let me just note, I love male groups, often prefer them to other configurations, and I would have been happy with the Bubs winning season one (and loved On the Rocks and even the Aires). I just am not overly impressed with the ‘Kats yet. I guess they’ll get another performance to perhaps win me over.
This is the weakest song for The Ultimate Sing Off so far, and of course it is right in the wheelhouse of SCR, perhaps for further dramatic effect. The Filharmonic have only one more singer than SCR, but it feels like they have a dozen more voices. That is the power of effective (and modern) arranging. Check out how Warren Bloom describes it here: it’s like having an “A/B” button going between the late ’50’s and the present. Could not have said it better myself.
So, the time has come for SCR to go. It makes sense, and the remaining 7 groups are fairly strong, so let’s see how it shakes out from here.
By the way, if you want to learn more about how things work behind the scenes at the show, including how well the groups get along and how difficult it is for them to learn/re-learn songs based on licensing rights and other factors (which really has me thinking twice about how critical to be of any groups on the show), check out this great interview with Johanna Vinson (from Element and previously Delilah) over at CASA.
What did you all think? Agree? Disagree?