HomeConcert Review: Sonos with Red States, 11.17.11, The Triad, NYC

Evan Feist's picture

The wait was over.  SONOS had come to NYC and was brilliantly hosted by Jim Diego, CASA Ambassador Extraordinaire of CASA’s own Red States. Ever since hearing their haunting rendition [regardless of what Shawn Stockman thinks] of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on Sing 6, I knew I had to see their live show.  And you do, too.

I walked up the stairs through a very narrow hallway up to The Triad. Being the uber aca-nerds my friends and I are, we were first to arrive.  Within minutes, the small hallway was packed with fans and aca-elite.  I distinctly remember turning to my friends Denise, Brittany, and Costas saying, “That’s Benjamin Stevens, this is going to be a good show!”.

The Triad itself seems to be a wonderful NYC venue for a cappella. It boasts an intimate cabaret-like feel with its lush curtains, tables, and couches. To be honest, I expected a big hall like Irving Plaza or Roseland Ballroom and was so incredibly happy to be wrong.  The sound was a different issue, but we’ll get to that later.

Watching the Red States was kind of like watching Delilah on this season of NBC’s “the Sing-Off” [season 3] in that the group is made up of Acalums from college groups I’ve grown to know and love.  As they were getting ready to sing I felt as if my friends and I were playing “Guess Who?”.   Ok I’ve got one. Is it a girl? Yes. Was she in an all girl group? Yes. Was it on the East Coast? Yes. I see her; it’s Candace Helfand from Rutgers Shockwave!

The group sounds great.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the house engineer and sound system.  Big groups like the Red States just don’t come across when the lead, VP, and bass are miked and no one else is.  Yeah, there were a few condensers pointed at the group, but it didn’t match the in-your-faceness of the miked members.  I would go as far as to say that miking no one is better than miking a few.  OR, just get more area mikes and pump them.  This was such a small venue that I think they could’ve turned the mics way down and still give the VP, bass, and lead the bump they needed.

Musically, they’re a fantastic group.  The groove always sits well and the support [not background because they’re important too!] pads and chords are nicely voiced.  I actually had to get up and sit at the foot of the stage, Indian-style of course, just to hear them.  The two-drink minimum didn’t help either.

Then, it was time for Sonos.  They. Put on. A show.  There’s no other way to say it.  The stage was littered with pedals and oscillators galore. Sonos percussionist Ben McClain told me that this is nothing. “Next time” he said, “you won’t know what hit you.  This is only the beginning!”

They took to the stage and astounded me.  Before the show, Chris Harrison regrettably told me how sick he was and that he’d rather me not record the show, but to be honest, he and they sounded amazing.  I guess what I mean is I cannot wait to hear them at their fighting weight.  Usually, I’m not one for studio effects and tricks that mask the awesome power of the human voice, but there’s something dare I say “organic” about the way they use them. Female octaved bass, sure. General reverb, okay.  Sonos effectively employs delay and chorus like I’ve never heard before.  The raw (and processed) energy coming from that stage blew me away.  I wish I could go into more specifics but I was a fan-boy with his mouth dropped wide open.  They hit me so hard I actually got weepy during a few of their ballads.  Oh, and “I Want You Back” was awesome.

From talking to the group, it seems like they’re going in a new direction: originals.  I think this is a phenomenal idea as they can write specifically for the kind of sound and show they want to put on. This is a direction, I believe, we all should go in.  College a cappella is fun and for too long has been seen as novelty.  We all know this is not the case, but to the general public, it’s about covers.  This is not a terrible thing, I just know that a cappella is more than that.  So I challenge YOU, college and high school groups, for every 3-5 covers you perform, do an original too.  You’ll up your musicianship game and be able to craft your group’s image and message a lot stronger.  Besides the many musical and educational reasons to write and perform originals, it legitimizes artists and puts them on the same plane as all other art forms.

About the author:
Evan Feist has been composing, arranging, teaching, and singing a cappella music and vocal percussion for over eight years and has his Bachelor‚Äôs Degree in Studio Composition and Arts Management from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Music and is working towards his Master' Degree in Music Education at Columbia University, Teacher's College.  He has created and managed many successful groups, such as the A Cappella Innovations‚Äô honored Choral Pleasure, SUNY Purchase Soul Voices, and the Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK Honors Choir.  Evan is the founder and president of Oven Feast Productions, and the business manager of Stacks of Wax Records, currently based out of Jersville Studios. He dabbles in all things musical and plays the piano, drums, percussion, trumpet, shofar, bass, and guitar.  Evan is currently building a collegiate mixed a cappella group in NYC (open to ALL students in the area)