Everyone's gone to the movies; now we're top 4 at laaaaaaaaaaaast.
[Sing-Off and other a-cappella-related postings are simul-blogged at the Contemporary A Cappella Society and 5th Judge.]
I'm writing this well after episode 6 aired (on the night of Dec. 18), as I had no time to do a full recap of this episode in time-- critiquing a two-hour episode with my usual detail with only a 22-hour turnaround on a work day was not happening-- which is a shame, because this was an overall thrilling episode. I was originally going to be a wiseass and just compile my favorite Facebook statuses and tweets about the episode as it was airing (in all time zones) from friends and colleagues, but even that was too overwhelming (as awesome as some of the statuses and tweets were). I even encouraged people to use the hashtag #5thJudge to make their commentary easier to find... and then discovered that #5thJudge is commonly used by fans of The Voice. Could've used some heads up on that, folks. Also, my wife Samantha called me out for hypocrisy-- NBC's Today is our morning news show of choice, and for the last few months I've been ridiculing their new "Orange Room," which is a special section of the set dedicated to social media (usually anchored by Voice host Carson Daly when he's not stuck in L.A.), basically making the reactions to events stories in-and-of-themselves, which is just nauseating to me, and when I told Samantha I'd be doing a compilation of social media reactions, she immediately said, "so... you're creating your own Orange Room?" In my defense, my circle of friends and colleagues are more clever than anonymous jerks on the Internet at large, and I'm also NOT A MAJOR NEWS ORGANIZATION. Still: touché, cutie, touché.
Anyway, here's a link to the full episode in case you missed it, but for those of you have as little spare time as I do, here are my personal favorite performances of the night (and my opinion is relative, as the concentration of talent has gotten higher):
"I've Had the Time of My Life" is one of my favorite songs of the '80s (and was one of the first sheet music singles I ever bought with my allowance), and this opening company number did it justice. And Jeremy (of acoUstiKats) steps out as a solid soloist, establishing this as the season of the bass lead.
If the challenge of the episode was "to choose a song that was made famous by a movie," I wonder how Roy Orbison would feel about his song "Oh, Pretty Woman", which hit #1 in 1964 as recorded by him and later hit #12 in 1982 as recorded by Van Halen, being supposedly "popularized" by a 1990 film. Awwwwwwkward. Anyway, Home Free's performance of it wasn't in the top tier of the night, particularly because they make so many chords erroneously tonic somehow-- the "yeah yeah yeah" in the bridge, and in alternating measures in the bass-less chorus with no ^6 up top to turn the chords into the VImi my ears so badly want them to be.
Here's Vocal Rush's gorgeous super-balladization of Phil Collins's self-penned power ballad "Against All Odds" (which I also had as sheet music as a kid, both in a 1984 pop hits compilation arranged for beginning piano, and in a still-awesome 1986 drum tablature compilation), and it really hit me in the gut. (Not be a wet blanket, but Kyana isn't the first designated VP to take a solo-- Geena of Delilah in season 3 staked that claim first. But still, well done!)
By halfway through, I was going to say the acoUstiKats' "Old Time Rock 'n Roll" reminded me the Dartmouth Aires' "Shout" from season 3, and then they actually overtly referred to "Shout", so congrats acoUstiKats, you're now Aires Lite.
Filharmonic did a heartfelt but suprisingly generic rendition of "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing". They've been my #1 seed from that start, and this made me nervous for them.
If you always wanted to hear what a nervous breakdown would sound like on this show, check out VoicePlay's bizarre ending to "Don't You Forget About Me", which sounds like an angry reharmonization of the intro to Tears For Fears' "Break It Down Again".
I can't remember at all what Adele's original version of "Skyfall" sounds like, but it can't possibly be as good-- despite some iffy VP-- as Ten's performance here. Holy moley, can these people wail together.
The last three songs are ostensibly Battles, but as we learned quickly, they were more like lovefests between the paired groups, and OH MY LORD they are all fantastic, which is why I'm embedding all three of them.
Exhibit A is this performance of "Eye of the Tiger" that is so much fun (and brilliantly arranged) it's ridiculous. acoUstiKats and Ten both redeem themselves here with a huge sound, and the massive flange halfway through is worth ten replays of this.
On "Fame", Vocal Rush's blend and group power is still stellar, Ten makes up for doing the overused half-time shift in the chorus by doing some crazy modal shifts (under "I'm gonna make it to heaven, light up the sky like a flame"), and the Latin section is REE. DIH. CUE. LUSS. People toss around the cliché that groups "leave it all on the stage," but this is worth the cliché.
"I'm Alright" has always been wallpaper to me-- it's a song that's just sorta there, the gopher in Caddy Shack seems to be dancing to it out of licensing obligations... just not a song I've ever given any thought to. And then this happened. While I expected excellent things from Home Free and superlative things from Filharmonic, I was not prepared for what happens starting at 0:40. Despite two other stellar Battles right before this one, this melange of musical styles turns into possibly the greatest competition performance (i.e. without backing tracks) in the history of the show.
Interestingly, Jewel implies that Home Free patched up the holes in Filharmonic's sound (holes I've never heard myself), from which I infer (incorrectly) that Filharmonic is on its way to elimination.
In the end, acoUstiKats (who I didn't expect to get this far) and VoicePlay (who could've dominated but took their eyes off the the prize) both go home. Vocal Rush is absolutely killing it every time; the conventional wisdom is that the producers try to skew the finals to not include a large academic-based group, but the Aires made it to season 3's final, so there's hope there. Ten gets stronger every night, and could ultimately be the combination of power and tasty harmonies that we've been hungering for this season. Filharmonic and Home Free were both washes this time after an amazing Battle (with each other) made up for a meh individual songs; seems like they saved each other!
And we have a top 4 already! This compressed season is playing tricks on my mind; I kind of long for those long-ago days, way back in 2011, when there'd be one episode per week and we'd go on the intarwebs and discuss it like NFL fans breaking down a team's wide receivers' prospects against another team's impenetrable secondary, and after a week (also like the NFL) it was time to see the contest at last with all of the attendant hype. (And I could use that now, since the Jets and Giants absolutely imploded this season and were both eliminated from the playoffs this Sunday.) If only there were an ESPN-style show for people to break down a group's VP's prospects against another group's impenetrable block harmonies. Wouldn't that be nice. But no, only sports (and apparently Game of Thrones) is allowed to engender open geekery such as that. Someday, my people... someday. *sigh*
About the writer:
WARREN BLOOM was a founding member of Spur Of The Moment at Brandeis Univ., sang with Jazz Vocal 2 at the Univ. of Miami Frost School of Music, and MD'd the summer pro group The Hyannis Sound. Since returning to New York City in 1997, he's been MD and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects, including Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs), Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction), Minimum Wage (2002 NYC Fringe Festival and off-Broadway runs) and Invisible Men (numerous New York and Boston Harmony Sweepstakes awards), and was a staff arranger for 10fm and the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service (now Total Vocal). He's also been a regular ICCA/ICHSA judge since 2002 (including both 2006 finals). He's been teaching musical theater (middle & high school) at the Usdan Center for the Arts on L.I. most summers since 1998, and also spent a year as a composer/lyricist in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop. He was band & orchestra director at Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan for three years, and now teaches general music (K-5) at P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights. He's also a freelance voiceover artist, live sound tech (for numerous vocal groups including Naturally 7, Ball in the House and Six13), and music copyist. He holds music degrees from Brandeis, U. Miami, and CUNY Hunter College.