HomeConcert Review: ICCA 2010 Finals

shane.ardell's picture

I never cease to be impressed by the talent that shows up each year at the ICCA finals. The show started with a few opening acts, including the host group Duwende and finalists from the previous night's ICHSA event. Geoffrey Barnes of Duwende got the crowd warmed up and ready to go with a group original, "Free Your Mind".  Master of Ceremonies Dave Brown kept the momentum going, and even with housekeeping announcements he had the audience laughing. 

Before starting the competition, we were treated to one song from Enharmonic Fusion, a Mixed group from DeKalb High School in DeKalb, IL who sang "You Have Stolen My Heart" by Dashboard Confessional.  The duet was good, better even than I had heard it the night before, and the arrangement is nice and driving.  My only complaint, really, both in their competition and during the collegiate finals, was that the duet ignores each other until the very end of the song. 

Next up was the 3rd place group from the ICHSA finals, The Town Criers from Weston High School in Weston, MA, singing "Let it Rock" by Kevin Rudolf.  This group explodes with energy all around, and any flaw is covered up by how fun they are to watch.  I also felt that this group was more laid back (if that's possible) than they were during the competition the night before, and really impressed the audience.

West Champions - USC SoCal VoCals

God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday) - The soloist on this song was smooth and soulful, although I would have liked to be able to hear her more.  This turned out to be a trend throughout the evening, as I later found out to be a mandate to the sound engineer for the whole evening.  Granted, I could hear the background singers very well, but it seems like if I can't hear the soloist enough to understand the words, it's erring a little too far on the side of caution. 

Crazy Ever After (The Rescues) - This song confused me a bit.  I loved the song choice, and the arrangement was good, but they switched the soloists every 4 measures or so - too often for me.  It almost made me nervous how much they did it that something would go wrong, or one person wouldn't be up to par, but it was so well executed I can forgive them.  One thing it did for them was show their polish on blocking and choreography, as well as prove that every single voice in the group was top notch.  Interesting strategy.  My favorite part of the song, however, was the ending when all the commotion stopped and the entire group joined in on the hook.  It was very powerful. The SoCal VoCals' other strength on this song was how invested each person was.  I really believed that every single person was in agony or begging someone to stay.  So engaging.

Livin' for the City (unknown) - The song started with a trio, which was locked in.  The soloist of this song was another great fit, and every single person looked like they were having fun.  The choreography was creative, and kept momentum going while there was no soloist.  The entire group danced at the end, which also helped to end the set with a bang.

Honestly, I couldn't poke any holes in the entire set, except for perhaps accusing them of being ADD.

Mid-Atlantic Champions - SUNY Buffalo Chips

Fireflies (Owl City) - This song started with the soloist elevated above the group chasing "fireflies" (rather, LED flashlights blinking on and off).  It was definitely a fun effect.  The soloist had a good tone for the song, but I felt that after a while the group stole the spotlight.  The soloist just maintained status quo and didn't do anything to keep my interest.  The choreography had everyone laughing at the end, although I didn't feel like it had anything to do with the song itself.

Drive (Incubus) - The arrangement was nice and flowing, but I again was easily distracted from the soloist.  I'm honestly not sure why, although the soloist did have a habit of stepping away and turning away from the mic which led to a very uneven experience.  Honestly, it wasn't necessary for any soloists to do the rock-star-pull-away-from-the-mic-thing because a) I'm sure they had a compressor on the soloist, and b) they were all too quiet anyway. I did also notice that there were two percussionists listed on this song, although I'm not sure why you would bother with two percussionists if you're only going to mic one of them.

Army (Ben Folds) - I honestly didn't take many notes cause I was watching the whole time.  I enjoyed this number, although I thought the choreography was just movement - fun to watch, but not particularly meaningful.  In fact, there were a few noticeable repeat moves from the first song in their set.  The trumpets were pretty good, and I really enjoyed the riff at the end of the bridge.  Overall it was a fun interpretation of Ben Folds.

South Champions - UGA Accidentals

Comin' Home Baby (Michael Buble w/ Boys II Men) - The Accidentals started the show with 5 guys on stage, and there was an audible moment of realization and sudden understanding from the audience when the rest of the group ran out after the intro.  The choreography started off with fun sultry movements and the arrangement was nice and easy to listen to.  The tempo change was a little abrupt - I might have kept it a couple clicks slower.  Before the last chorus there was a short interlude with somewhat of a percussion solo, which made me wish the percussion was beefier in the mix (another trend throughout the night).  Another group member then took over the percussion and the original percussionist did a back flip on stage, to great applause of course.  I like the soloist on this song - I feel like he does a great job keeping it going, but the audience usually walks away remembering the back flip instead.  Maybe the soloist should have done a back flip.

 I Shall Not Walk Alone (Blind Boys of Alabama) - Without an audible count off or blowing a pitch, the group started the next song with just a quartet while the rest of the group knelt in a praying position.   Slowly, and one by one, each member stood up and joined the song.  It's a nice effect, although it exposes the quartet at the beginning of the song.  I personally find this song very moving.  You get a sense of camaraderie amongst the members, and it really emulates the lyrics of the song: "When my legs no longer carry and the warm wind chills my bones, I reach out for Mother Mary and I shall not walk alone".  I do know that the soloist is controversial, meaning that people either love his interpretation or hate it.  I personally love it, and feel like it brings across a real sense of angst, while others say there are breath support issues.  Personally, I think if there were really breath support issues he would stick out like a sore thumb while singing with the rest of the group on other songs, and so am inclined to believe it's interpretation.  But that's just me.  Either way, people are split down the middle on this one.

Come Together (The Beatles) - Before the applause ended from the previous song the percussionist began.  One thing the Accidentals have is strong transitions, and that, to me, raises the bar for other groups.  While moving to the beat to the new formation, the guys loosened their ties, which unexpectedly gave a sense of release after the cathartic ending to the previous song.  The soloist is always rocking on this one, and the guys really get the crowd involved.  Another abrupt tempo change happened in this song after the bridge, but it definitely was controlled and purposeful.  I would say they lost a bit of momentum at the end of the song during the vamping, but ended well and cleanly.

After a brief intermission, the 1st place group from the ICHSA finals sang the final song from their set: "If You're Out There" by John Legend.  The only thing I can really say about this song is it was less energetic than the night before, and I think more powerful when ending their full set which was really strong.

Midwest Champions - Northwestern Purple Haze

I'm Outta Love (Anastacia) - The soloists' voice on this one was outstanding, and she never had a dull moment.  Her trademark, however, was flipping her hair, which the first time was cute and edgy, but the second time was a little much.  I especially enjoyed the arrangement during the choruses - this group's strength was singing loud and they used it.  I do have mixed feelings, however, about groups being provocative on stage, and there were a few times where the choreography felt misplaced on this song.  After the song was over the person sitting next to me leaned over and said, "I have a sudden urge to flip my hair."

Coming Home (John Legend) - The group unfortunately had to blow the pitch twice on this song, which lost some momentum from the previous song for me.  I wasn't a big fan of the arrangement during the first verse - I felt like it didn't support the soloist.  It was like he was off by himself for what felt like forever.  It picked up, though, starting at the 2nd chorus. 

En Vogue Medley (En Vogue) - This was a medley (or, maybe technically a "mash-up") of "Never Gonna Get It" and "Free Your Mind" by En Vogue.  I generally enjoyed this song, and felt that the soloists were good, the transitions between songs were well arranged, and the choreography was really fun.  I did have one complaint, and that was the "bop" was too long (from Never Gonna Get It).  It totally changes the feel of the song.  When you do a song that is so recognizable, you have to be careful about changing something that is such a trademark.

Northeast Champion - Berklee Pitch Slapped

Good Girls Go Bad (Cobra Starship) - This song was pretty fun, and the soloist was performing from the moment he walked on stage.  The girl who sang the duet started back in the group with her hair up and glasses on, which she quickly lost at the end of her first few lines.  Not only did the group let loose and have fun, they helped the audience to as well.  They also had a very creative method for the creating the effect for the "good girls go bad" riff (you know, the thing were you move your lips using your finger and it sounds like you're under water?  what is that called anyway?), and kept the audience engaged the entire song.

Halo (Beyonce) - Honestly, I had doubts about the soloist during the first verse, but she turned out to have a very agile voice.  She did the runs almost flawlessly, and had a pretty good tone for the song.  There was an awkward transition into the last chorus where it lost the momentum they had worked so hard to build up - not an execution issue but definitely an arrangement issue.

Got to Get You Into My Life (Earth Wind and Fire) - The soloist on this song was outstanding - I really enjoyed the whole thing.   They did do a skat guitar solo during the bridge, and the arrangement was pretty good, not that I wouldn't have done just a few things differently.

Wild Card Champion - University of Oregon Divisi (Wildcard Finalists)

Ruby Blue (Roisin Murphy) - This song started with a siren sound effect that was spot on.  This song did confuse me, however.  I wasn't sure what to focus on most of the time.  I know it had something to do with someone named Ruby and a gun - I liked the soloist's voice but not the song choice.  It was also unclear when they were finished, which sometimes is a cool effect, but sometimes is awkward.  This time it was awkward, and the audience waited an agonizing 10 seconds to clap at the end of the song.

Fallin' (Alicia Keys) - This song was done as an ensemble, which was very interesting and innovative.  The arrangement was really cool in places, and not so exciting in places.  The percussion entrance was very weak, and the song never really picked up for me.

This Will Be (Natalie Cole) - This is one of my favorite songs and I have been wanting to arrange it for a few years, but both never got around to it and wasn't in a group that it would fit.  They had a pretty good transition out of the previous song, but then they blew the pitch and did the quintessential counting out loud and lost all the momentum the transition created.  The soloist was great, however, and totally lived up to Natalie Cole.

He Lives in You (Lion King on Broadway) - An audience member's cell phone went off in about the fifth row, AFTER they blew the pitch, but they started well in spite of it.  I really liked the arrangement and thought it was a really interesting song choice - very daring.  I could, however, pick out the voice of the soloist from the first song of their set throughout the entire song.  There was a really cool dance interlude at the end, which made the song even more memorable, and definitely showed a different side of the group.

Duwende, as always, was spectacular and sang a five song set during the judges' deliberation.  Their classic closer, "Pomper", was introduced by Ed Chung saying, "Please don't be afraid by what we are about to do."  Ed, if any audience was going to take it in stride, it is this one.  They had the audience dancing in preparation for the results to be announced, and riffed while the competing groups were invited back to the stage, keeping the energy and anticipation high.

Reviewer's Pick

I won't pretend to be able to decide on the special awards (how could I choose?), but I did note at least one for each category:

Best Soloist:

  • Emily Goglia - "God Bless the Child" - USC SoCal VoCals
  • Langdon Quin - "Come Together" - UGA Accidentals
  • Will Makar - "Got to Get You Into My Life" - Berklee Pitch Slapped
  • Haley Steinberger - "This Will Be" - University of Oregon Divisi

Best Choreography:

  • "Crazy Ever After" - USC SoCal VoCals
  • "Fireflies" - SUNY Buffalo Chips

Best Vocal Percussion:

  • Dan Horst - Berklee Pitch Slapped

Best Arrangement:

  • Ben Bram & Kenton Chen - "Livin' for the City" - USC SoCal VoCals
  • Tasha Koontz - "I'm Outta Love" - Northwestern Purple Haze

My prediction for the first, second, and third place would have been:

1st: USC SoCal VoCals
2nd: UGA Accidentals
3rd: Berklee Pitch Slapped

But when has a reviewer ever agreed with the judges?  And when has a set of five judges ever agreed with each other?

The Results

Best Soloist: Langdon Quin - "Come Together" - UGA Accidentals

Best Choreography: USC SoCal VoCals (Entire Set)

Best Vocal Percussion: Shaffer Gray - UGA Accidentals

Best Arrangement: Christine Gallagher and Hannah Juliano - "Got To Get You Into My Life" - Berklee Pitch Slapped

1st: USC SoCal VoCals
2nd: Berklee Pitch Slapped
3rd: UGA Accidentals

Congratulations to everyone for even making it to the stage in New York, and of course especially to the top 3 collegiate groups in the country in 2010.