HomeConcert Review: 2009 Los Angeles Harmony Sweepstakes Regional - April 4, 2009

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Sweep Sweep N Sweep Sweep, Yeah
Los Angeles Regionals, Harmony Sweepstakes

April 4, 2009
By Amy Bob Engelhardt

The 2009 Los Angeles Harmony Sweeps were held at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse on Saturday, April 4.  Despite being plagued by sound problems (shorting mikes, distortion and balance issues), the groups soldiered forward unfazed, to their credit. 

2008 winners Soundstage emceed the competition, which was judged by local retro-cool quartet Ready, Willing and MabelRWM opened the show with several mesmerizing tunes that showcased their wonderfully even blend, laid-back presentation and silver-tongued tuning as well as an Astrud Gilberto-worthy solo by Kate Walker. 

The South Bay Coastliners, a 75+ strong, male barbershop chorus hosted and staffed the event.  Peter Neushul led them in a rousing rendition of “They Wrote Them in the Good Old Days” featuring a too-brief burst of tap-dancing finesse by John Duperon.

These Guys, who garnered a second-place finish for the evening, combined an m-pact approach to arranging (“Boogie Nights”) with a more comic sensibility in a great, original take on “She Bought It,” great fun despite balance problems (lead vs. background and VP). 

Las Vegas’ King 4, a pelvi-thrusting quartet of sideburned Elvi in sunglasses who finished third, rode their shtick all the way into the sunset (“uhthankyouverymuch”).   Now all they need is some slick choreography!   Great idea.

Orange County’s Vocal Magic painted an array of gentler vocal jazz classics on the evening’s palette; the gentleman sitting next to me, not a fan of modern vocal percussion, was a-grooving.  

After intermission, 2009 champs-to-be Evolution swept the Sweeps.  From Rono’s sweet solo in their opening “You’re My Angel” to Jamie Paisley’s astonishing falsetto, Ken White’s rubber-faced bass antics to arranger/hunk Michael Maury’s mad skillz and unique re-stylings of “Book of Love,” this group was the clear winner.   They also won the Audience Favorite award.  I’m not a big Boy Band gal, but these guys were fun, in tune and creative. 

Nate George snagged the Best Original Arrangement award for Red Harmony’s take on Jason Mraz’s “Remedy,” crooned with funky pop gusto by blushing tenor Anthony Starble. 

If there had been a “Most Avant-Garde” award for the evening, Elemental Harmony would have grabbed it with six hands.  The trio of angel-voiced women boldly confused the audience with their folk/operatic/whistle tube/coyote calling set that closed with a straightforward rendition of local songwriter Karen Hart’s “Totally Exposed.”  Bravo to this group for shaking things up!

Las Vegas based Throat, who snagged the Best Original Song award, performed ALL original material, a refreshing, praiseworthy move.   I am always glad when judges and hosts announce and encourage these choices.   The award was given for their first tune, “La De Da,” although their second tune seemed more compelling with its hybrid groove components.  I must say I wish I’d heard this group better.  The vocal percussion, although excellent, overpowered the chords and lyrics of the very thing that separated this group from the others – their original material. 

Reigning Soundstage strutted their soundstuff before handing off the crown as the judges deliberated.  Soprano Jammie Hampton may very well be the next Elin Carlson (of Sixth Wave and countless soundtracks), and Bradley Hampton’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a true highlight.  (You guys related?!)  I’d like to hear more from alto Kim Reed.

Although I wasn’t a judge tonight, I’ve seen, judged and hosted these contests, and some things bear repeating for future competitors.   Exuberance, volume, youth (!) and great vocal percussion only take you so far as a vocal group.   Great tuning and/or great arranging certainly will separate you from the pack.  What do you have to offer creatively and musically that no one else offers?  Talent aside, what makes your group unique?    What’s your X Factor?  What can you show me (and sing for me) that Makes Me Go MMMMM?  You’re not going to sing everything in tune every night.  OK, so… what else do you have on the board that will be solidly entertaining?  Creativity and originality, baby.  That’s the ticket.  (And the performing skillz to back that up.)

Amy Bob Engelhardt is celebrating her 12th year being the resident female member of Grammy-nominated vocal quartet (of nutjobs) The Bobs and is one of the group’s primary writer-arrangers.  She lives in Los Angeles and released a solo pop CD last year, Not Gonna Be Pretty, available at cdbaby and iTunes.

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Comments

Frankly, it sounds like we

Frankly, it sounds like we collectively are far too soft on bad sound/sound guys. It sounds like the sound that night was atrocious, and if someone's paid to run sound, there sound be a minimum level they should attain, like, the mics should be ON for the whole show, there should be no feedback or obvious mistakes...and if those things do happen, you hire someone else the next year that you find out beforehand knows how to run sound for a cappella. (The organizers) not doing that homework is an insult to the audience and the performers. Crappy soundguys with attitude will always be, but we don't have to USE them.

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

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