HomeConcert Review: Straight No Chaser at Centennial Hall, Tucson, Arizona

Straight No Chaser-SNC Live Tour Review
November 23, 2012
University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall, Tucson, Arizona

My first review, ever, for the CASA website was the Straight No Chaser EP, Six Pack. Almost three and a half years later, SNC is smokin’ hot with their latest National Tour, SNCLive. When I heard they were coming to Tucson, Arizona, I wanted a chance to see these guys in action since I had reviewed their EP so favorably. SNC did not disappoint. From the opening pre-show “get to know us” videos, to the comic relief in their songs and patter, the show was thoroughly enjoyable! Oh, and there was some a cappella, too.

After the pre-show videos concluded, the show began with a little fun. Straight No Chaser is no stranger to the “mash-up” as was evident in their opening number of fun.’s “Some Nights” and “We Are Young.” The opening harmonies soared and they continually use their 10 voices to their advantage by perfectly balancing harmony, octaves, bass, and percussion. Kudos also should go out to their sound engineer for perfectly balancing background with solos. Even with the competition of a University of Arizona home football game against archrivals, Arizona State, SNC was able to pack Centennial Hall, and from the get go, Tucson was ready to enjoy some impressive a cappella. The score updates were appreciated.

The true testament of any a cappella group is the “live” performance. No studio technicians for pitch adjustment or splicing tracks together, just 10 guys, 10 mics and an able-eared audience. The tuning was impeccable. There were momentary moments of pitch issues, but those often involved group members adjusting their in-ear monitors. SNC has a great knack for choosing soloists for their songs and Jerome Collins and Mike Luginbill truly shined as leads. That’s not to discount the rest of the group as each was given a chance to shine throughout the evening, including basses Charlie Mechling and Randy Stine when they were “allowed to actually sing lyrics and not just Da Dum, Doo, Dum.” Also, the clear music director of the group, in my eyes at least, was Walter Chase, complete with pitch pipe and count-offs. As I recall, Walter does quite a bit of the incredible arranging for the group.

Other pop songs sung over the course of the evening included: “Sign Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours/I Was Made to Love Her,” “I’m Yours/Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (both of which I reviewed on their EP), Gavin DeGraw’s “Soldier,” Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Each had it’s own SNC spin and the crowd was thoroughly entertained. Having been in a professional a cappella group, I found that the most difficult task of live performances can often be the choreography (or choral-ography if you will) and the patter, or talking in between songs. SNC utilizes more staging rather that choreo as they strategically placed members on platforms and ramps providing for a good stage picture with an impressive light show and the occasional dance move or booty shake thrown in. Impressive to me was each group member’s ability to talk to the audience in between songs and have them rolling on the floor in laughter. Each of the 10 guys is very likeable and it is evident that they have more of a brotherhood on and off stage rather than a friendship. Also apparent was a quote I read on their website by original member Randy Stine, “We take the music very seriously; we just don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

The first half of the show concluded with, up to this point, my favorite part of the evening—the Movie Medley. SNC brilliantly adds lyrics to many a movie theme song including the 20th Century Fox theme, Jurassic Park, Home Alone, E. T., Titanic, Forrest Gump, Indiana Jones, Chariots of Fire, Rocky, and Star Wars. The lyrics and stage antics had the audience in uncontrollable laughter. This is truly an area where SNC rises above other a cappella groups.

The lady sitting next to me was most excited to hear “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and in true SNC fashion, the second half of the show opened with the dark stage and the stagehand lighting of a mini Christmas tree. Fans were not disappointed. The 12 Days had arrived and had a few slight differences from the original YouTube sensation which was welcomed because it help make it seem fresh. SNC continued with a holiday set that included an outstanding arrangement of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (probably my favorite a cappella arrangement of this song), a beautiful “Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard on High,” a simplistic “Carol of the Bells,” a corny “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” and again their penchant for comical originals was displayed in the ever popular “Christmas Can Can.” The performance switched back over to the popular genre as they belted out “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and concluded with a “Club Medley” of dance favorites including songs like “Moves Like Jagger,” “Call Me Maybe,” “Party Rock Anthem,” and “Gangnam Style.” I am continually impressed with SNC’s ability to stay current with their song cover choices and arrangements.

A double encore included a mash-up of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison.” These two songs were great choices for a mash-up, but not too sure how many of the older crowd were as familiar with BBD, as I was—I appreciated it. It did not matter as the Michael Jackson dance moves displayed by Jerome and Mike were crowd pleasers. The second encore ended up being my favorite moment of the evening; 10 singers came out on stage, suit jackets removed and replaced with red UofA football t-shirts. The boys gave the audience a taste of what their concerts were like back in the day at Indiana University: 10 guys, no microphones, and an unbelievable arrangement of “O Holy Night” with Jerome Collins at the helm. A truly beautiful way to finish the evening as their mic-less voices soared through Centennial Hall and you could hear a pin drop in the audience. A true goose bump moment.

Ultimately, SNC is a great representation of what so many a cappella groups wish for: to be discovered, get a record deal, and tour the world sharing music with those who will listen (and clap and laugh and scream). Their grueling tour schedule could wreck havoc on a voice, but they seem to be holding up well and will have to continue to hold up for the 27 more concerts until their break on Dec. 24th. In addition to the concerts, SNC will have a Dec. 21st Today Show appearance. Then SNC starts up again in February around the time of their latest album release. I believe in my last review I called this group up and coming; Straight No Chaser has well surpassed the up and coming label and could be labeled pure rock stars—or its a cappella equivalent, r’a cappella stars!

For more info about albums, performances, and the boys, you can visit the Straight No Chaser website: www.sncmusic.com

[photo Chach Snook]

About the writer:
José “Chach” Snook grew up in Napa, CA and has performed in 44 states and 13 countries. For 10 years, Chach lived in NYC as a professional singer/actor and appeared in many shows including Forever Plaid and Altar Boyz (pre-Off-Broadway reading). Chach has been singing a cappella since his freshman year of high school and was last seen as a member of the NY-based, jazz a cappella group Pieces of 8. With Pof8 he recorded 2 albums and was featured on United Airlines’ in-flight music. Chach has a Vocal Performance degree from Northern Arizona University and currently teaches choir and theatre in Tucson, AZ where he was named Arizona Top 5 Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. He happily calls Tucson home with his wife and 2 children.