HomeFORK, The Edge Effect and Pentatonix Bring Down The House At SoJam X

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It was physically and emotionally painful to leave SoJam X. I guess you could say I had an a-cappella-hangover from the awe-inspiring performances from the previous night. Or maybe I had a love-hangover from being reunited with so many talented and amazing people who I only get to see a few times a year if I’m lucky. And maybe I had a real hangover, too, but that’s beside the point. With a new location, a new competition format, and of course big names like Pentatonix and FORK being thrown around, there was a lot of buzz in the aca-universe that the tenth annual SoJam was set to be the best yet. SoJam X exceeded every expectation I set for it, and if you weren’t there, I recommend making a note to yourself that whenever time-travel is available to the general public, you head there first.

As the house went down, the crowd went wild and everyone scrambled to get to their seats. The Edge Effect had a lot of pressure on them, opening for arguably two of the biggest names in professional a cappella, and they did an amazing job. They did a great job working the crowd through their Michael Jackson medley, complete with impressive dance moves and a variety of soloists. Their next song was also a medley, but it was comprised of more contemporary songs and featured a moving build from piece to piece. The vocal range of the group was really showcased in the medley, and it was equally impressive that a somewhat repetitive background was full of energy, which helped keep it engaging for the audience.

Having experienced the Italian phenoms, Cluster, this summer live at VoCAL Nation, I was hesitant to accept another group tackling their unique style of arranging on “Hallelujah.” From the beautifully present yet gentle bass to the astounding blend in the upper voices, it was hard NOT to like everything about The Edge Effect’s take on a song that notoriously falls flat when covered. It was a great time to plug their KickStarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/881956516/the-edge-effect-debut-album?ref=card) campaign, which ends on the last day of 2012, for their debut album. Their final song, a funkified take on The Beatles’ “Come Together,” is best described with one word – swag. I could tell the group really enjoyed performing this song, from the rhythm section break down to doing the splits (casual).

After seeing them take the stage like they’ve been performing together for years, it’s hard to remember that Pentatonix is still a young group, officially formed for the third season of The Sing Off. Their cohesion as a group is evident in all they do, and each member brings something truly amazing to the stage. There seems to be no genre or artist that Pentatonix can’t cover, from Swedish House Mafia’s “Save the World Tonight” and Beyonce’s “End of Time” to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and even a song that member Scott Hoying wrote. Their arrangements are innovative in a revolutionary way, and they blow all live-performance expectations out of the water with their technique and vocal range. Vocal percussionist Kevin Olusola sang and percussed simultaneously; the trio of soloists (Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, and Mitch Grassi) showed off their ranges at both ends of the spectrum throughout every piece; Maldonado, the only female in the group, proved her worth many times over with the wonderful addition of her unique tone in the background and her powerful voice on solos and on harmonies; bass Avi Kaplan created overtones and managed to essentially sing two parts at once.

Pentatonix did an amazing job of really bringing the audience into the show. They gave personal stories behind certain songs, they took a photo of the audience to post to their Facebook page, and even brought an audience member (Jo Vinson of Musae) on-stage to serenade her. Hoying reminisced on their days performing on “The Sing-Off”, saying that “Dog Days” was a favorite of his to perform. Learning the personal story, hearing the passion in their voices firsthand, and finding the meaning in their interpretation led to me liking the song for the first time ever. Everyone in the audience was secretly hoping they were the person that the group had selected beforehand to serenade on stage, and I gotta say – Pentatonix personally singing Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it on” to you? Best. Birthday. Present. Ever. Vinson was a great sport about it and managed to keep her cool through the flawless riffs and Hoying sitting on her lap.

One of the best things about my seat during the concert was my proximity to the ultimate a cappella fanboy. He jumped out of his seat and squirmed the whole show, letting the world see what I was internalizing. The entire evening was mind-blowing from start to finish, but I felt very conflicted when asked who was my favorite of the headliners. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Pentatonix gave a flawless live performance that truly showcased their supernatural talent and still gives me goose bumps, while endearing themselves to the crowd with their humility and grace, and proved that five phenomenal voices can make magic happen. FORK gave fans an experience like no other with help from their “fifth member,” sound engineer Grégory Maisse, the incorporation of a music video during the show, and years of mastery over the rock star / diva stage persona. My take? Apples and oranges are both delicious, y’all.

FORK is quite possibly the most androgynously appealing group in the history of the world. From the moment they take the stage, it’s like nothing else exists. Looking back through my notes, I had hand-written caps lock on for the entire set. Having heard their live album, “Pink Noise Live,” I had expected seeing the show to be different yet the same. Each member did more than hold his or her own as a soloist, and did more than just sustain notes in the background. From Kasper Ramström head-banging and Jonte Ramsten jumping from the stage into the audience to Anna Asunta’s ever-impressive command of the stage and just basically everything Mia Hafrén did, there could never be an album that truly encapsulated that added beauty of a FORK live show. The likeable rock-star personalities of the group were showcased at various points throughout the set, with Ramström’s declaration of “It’s good to be me – who wouldn’t want to be a rock star?” balanced nicely with his warning of “If you can choose any other music than a cappella, do it. It’s not where rolling in the money is.”

The numerous effects utilized by sound engineer Maisse throughout the show were seamlessly integrated and effortlessly impressive. Harmonizers, octavizers, synthesizers… the unique FORK sound wouldn’t be the same without the perfectly timed work done by Maisse off-stage. They have been told that they have a “wonderful way of doing likeable versions of songs everyone really hates,” and one of the standout moments of the evening was the incorporation of an epic-ly cheesy music video of the group doing unsurprisingly impressive interpretive dance to go along with their cover of Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” a song they announced as “the song everyone hates.” Every solo was engaging; every repetitive line in the background was energized; every note blended impeccably with the others; every song had great dynamic range. The arrangements varied from simple to complex, but the style was always complimentary to what FORK wanted the song to become with their variation. One of my favorite arrangements is still “Gaga,” a clever mash-up of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance,” because even after commenting on how the amalgamation really snuck up on me in my review of their live album, they managed to sneak it past me once more.

There’s no place like SoJam. The innovation and talent in not only the professional showcase but also the collegiate competition is always inspiring, the planning is always on point, and the memories always last much longer than a weekend. Coming back to the real world is always a bit of culture shock, especially when your non-aca-friends don’t understand why you’re so hyped over four (FORK), five (Pentatonix), or six (The Edge Effect) people managing to recreate and, in most cases, improve upon songs originally performed with instruments and computers. The MC for the evening made a statement that accurately sums up a lot of my feelings toward a cappella – “Anyone can sing with an instrument, but only real musicians can sing a cappella.”

[photos courtesy Michael Eldredge]

About the writer:
Nina Beaulieu is a student at James Madison University, studying Media Arts & Design with a focus on Converged Media and a Music Industry minor. She is a proud member of The BluesTones and has arranged various songs for them as well as for other groups. Nina hopes to stay very involved in the a cappella community after graduating. She likes ice hockey, peacocks, and dissonance.