It’s hard to resist the “end of an era” clichés when writing a review of the last EDLOS show one will ever see. ‘Cause really, it is. This is a group that has broken ground for many of the a cappella acts that came after them, forged new paths into musical styles that had barely been tried yet, and done it with charm and a healthy sense of gratitude and humility. I wonder what the course of a cappella history might have been if they hadn’t stepped out of the mold?
On Sunday, April 10, 2011, the EDLOS (Craig Knudsen, Eric Morris, Larry Venza, and Avi Jacobsen) performed for the last time as a group in Grass Valley, California, a seemingly unlikely venue but a place where they have managed to draw sell-out crowds for years in succession. Four classically trained singers, total professionals, who aren’t afraid to look silly in pursuit of their art – all while showing off why they went into the music business in the first place. Because, well, duh. They can seriously sing.
The program included a “tasting menu” of many of the high points of their 22-year run, including the Beach Boys’ "Good Vibrations", Hank Williams’ "Your Cheatin’ Heart", and the obligatory "Lion Sleeps Tonight", along with a couple of original songs.
High points for me mostly came after the intermission, when the guys fully hit their stride. The half opened with the original "Garbageman" – apparently written for an appearance at the California Refuse Removal Council. That’s not a joke, by the way. Clever, fun, and delivered with panache and skill, it was followed by a truly sweet (no pun intended) performance of Van Morrison’s "Tupelo Honey". I know of at least one member of the audience who was moved to tears.
A little later in the evening, we got to hear from Avi, the newest member of the group, who replaced Ed Cohn, the original bass in the quartet, a few years ago. Having dazzled us with his rich, resonant tones and rock-steady vocal percussion in more of a supporting role throughout the evening, it was lovely to hear him step out on the solo of the old Tom Jones classic, "The Green, Green Grass of Home".
The best moment in the show was the Beatles’ "Come Together", complete with the requisite ’60s tie-dye and crazy wigs, which rocked an unexpectedly dark funkiness I hadn’t heard from this group before. Runner-up for best moment: the Beach Boys’ "In My Room" for an acoustic encore.
There was another element to this EDLOS show that was new for me, having seen the group in several incarnations and venues during the past twenty years. Each singer has an obviously deep and abiding affection and respect for the others, and there is a great camaraderie that brings a feeling of comfort and ease when they’re onstage together – this is a good thing. But for the first time, at this show I got the sense that they were moving outside of that group dynamic to become four individuals – not that they weren’t an ensemble, but there was a subtle sense that they were finding their own unique and personal voices in preparation for moving on to follow their own paths. It was bittersweet, indeed, but it seemed like exactly the right note on which to say goodbye.
I moved to the Grass Valley area a little over twelve years ago, and was surprised to note that whenever conversation with locals trended toward a cappella music (which it tends to do rather a lot when I’m one of the people talking, go figure), most often the first words out of people’s mouths were something along the lines of how much they loved the EDLOS, and went to see them whenever they could. A whole audience who might never have sought out a cappella music has been introduced to the art form and subsequently seduced by these four vocal professionals.
There are worse legacies to leave behind, eh?
Thank you, Eric, Craig, Larry, and Avi. We’ll always be grateful for the music.
About the author:
Melinda L. Thomas was a piano performance major at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and at San Francisco State University. She has been singing all her life as well, and has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Conservatory Opera Theatre, Sacred and Profane Chamber Chorus, and was a founding member of Voci women's chamber chorus. She has also been a music director for many theatrical productions, including Godspell, Grease, Pippin, West Side Story, and Dracula: The Musical? These days, she sings with an early music a cappella quintet called Harmonium.