Us the Duo Elevates Pentatonix Show at the Fox Theatre

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Pentatonix at the Fox Theatre, September 1, 2017. Photo Credit John Gitchoff, St. Louis Post Dispatch

I’ve always enjoyed a cappella music. I’ve covered Straight No Chaser numerous times at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. The harmonies are always nice, but the recreation of instrumental sounds strictly by the dexterity of vocal cords is a real treat. When I heard Pentatonix was coming to town I was excited for the chance to cover them and to get a different style and range of song and showmanship than what I’ve grown accustomed to by Straight No Chaser.

The show began with an opening act, Us the Duo. Comprised of husband and wife Michael and Carissa Alvarado, the talented twosome quickly won over the audience with their charisma and skill. Carissa charmed with her smile and warmth, singing beautifully, while handsome Michael played the guitar or keyboard.  They were delightful and earned a deserved standing ovation at the end of their set.

Pentatonix, consisting of Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan, Kristen Maldonado and Kevin Olusola, were warmly received. Similar to Straight No Chaser, Olusola and Kaplan provided beat box and bass rhythm as a foundation for the higher ranged Hoying, Grassi and Maldonado to harmonize over. Also similar, the members would take turns between songs to address the audience. Where the two bands differ is in the intricacy of their songs. Pentatonix doesn’t seem to mash up songs as often as Straight No Chaser—nothing stood out to me to the degree that Straight No Chaser’s Billie Jean/Poison mash up always pleases the crowd. One the other hand, Pentatonix does do more original numbers, including “Cracked,” “Can’t Stop Love,” and “Misbehavin’,” the latter of which the band invited a few fans to come up and sing with them.

It’s worth mentioning that there’s a certain segment of people out there who seem to find fault in bands who do covers. Straight No Chaser’s set is almost entirely covers, except for perhaps their humorous movie theme “covers” which in which they sing short descriptions of movies like STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to the tune of the John Williams scores. A cappella acts can certainly do original numbers, as Pentatonix does, but personally I don’t find it “cheap” or “unoriginal” at all. They’re performing the songs in a completely unique way, and they’re very respectful of the material. It’s more of an homage than anything. Pentatonix paid homage to the Andrew Sisters’ with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” which I really enjoyed. They also covered Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” for which they brought Us the Duo on stage to join them, as well as John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” More modern covers included “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, and a short medley of Justin Bieber songs, which this old-timer wouldn’t have known anyway.  I did know the songs of the Michael Jackson medley, though to be ho0nest I thought they came off a little flat on one on that one.

The show ended with Pentatonix “dropping the mics” much the way Straight No Chaser usually does, but where the boys from Indiana University typically do a Christmas song Pentatonix did their original “Light In the Hallway.” It was a very pretty and touching song, performed just after acknowledging that Avi Kaplan, the man with the baritone voice that resonates so strong that I could feel my bronchial pathways clearing up in my chest, is leaving the band at the end of the tour. Unfortunately this moment was marred by the presumably drunk woman seated next to me who took that moment to stand up and drop a bunch of harsh swearwords as a off the cuff review of the show. Fortunately she left when the people seated around us started asker to be quiet or leave if she wasn’t enjoying the show. I was too stunned by her disrespectful way and vitriolic ranting to even react. I tip my hat to Mr. Kaplan—good luck to you on your future endeavors.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the show, but there seemed to be something of a perfunctory aura around Pentatonix performance. Maybe they’ve been touring too long, maybe their sick of their playlist. Maybe they just had an off night. I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t perform Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which is my favorite song that I know they’ve done.  I thought Kevin Olusola was particularly good, providing mouth-generated percussive beats over a classical cello piece that he played himself—a Bach movement, I think. I don’t think the crazy lady detracted from my enjoyment all that much, and while I’ve compared their performance to Straight No Chaser as a means of a cappella reference, I don’t think I’ve judged them too harshly against the standard bearers of their genre. I just didn’t think they were not as strong live as I’ve seen them on TV or in music videos I’ve watched. If you’re a superfan of Pentatonix—and there were many at the sold out Fox Theatre, you likely enjoyed yourself immensely. If you were just curious about the band or a more casual fan, your mileage likely varied to some degree.  

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0