American Idol, America’s Got Talent, X-Factor, Glee…even though plenty of pop stars have thin voices that have to be electronically enhanced and heavily backed up in order to sell records, it seems that Americans can still appreciate good old-fashioned singing. This is especially encouraging news for artists like the contestants on the increasingly popular show The Sing-Off, who sing their songs a capella, or without the aid of instrumentation. Rockapella is a group that has been making beautiful music with nothing but their voices for years, and they proved that they still have what it takes to entertain an audience without a band.
The Strathmore, a gorgeous venue in Bethesda, hosted a night filled with music that was anything but mainstream. While trying a coffee from one of the many refreshment stands, the sound of a young man belting out the lead in Neon Trees’ hit “Animal” drifted up the stairs from the orchestra level and distracted me from my need for a caffeine fix. The heavenly sounds came from the Faux Paz, an acapella group from the University of Maryland College Park standing in front of the auditorium to give a preshow. Their set was full of youthful energy, but they still managed to infuse a mellow and smooth vibe into songs such as Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and Bruno Mars’ “Marry You.” The true test of a cover group’s talent, however, lies in whether they can keep the audience interested when they sing a song that is not from the Top 40. Faux Paz did just that with “Sun of a Gun” by European sensation Oh Land, but faltered a bit with a couple morose unknown tunes sung by one of their less powerful leads. They are having a Big Show (that is the actual title) on December 10 at 7:30 at UM, and I hope they eliminate the depressing songs from their set so their talent can really shine.
Once the doors were opened I noticed that almost 90% of the audience was almost 90. I had assumed that more people from my generation, having loved “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and the joyful tones they provided, would clamor at the chance to see Rockapella live. However, the Strathmore focuses more on chamber, jazz and folk music, so younger people generally do not fill up the wooden seats. Fellow 90s kids – you’re missing out. A variety of legends play at the Strathmore, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, and the acoustics are outstanding.
When the members of Rockapella started singing from the wings, their voices were smooth, strong and clean. The five men sounded like a full choir and charmed us with original songs, covers, medleys, and even an inventive mash-up of “Just My Imagination” and “Imagine” that I am now obsessed with. The standouts from the show were the newest member Steven Dorian as he was the lead for their wonderful new song “California Sad-Eyed Girl,” George Baldi for his impossibly low and multi-dimensional bass, and Jeff Thacher for his layered percussion which was especially impressive during the disco segment. This is not to say that John K. Brown and Scott Leonard (the other two members) were not awesome as well, because they were. Brown hit crazy high notes throughout the night and Leonard seemed to be bursting with energy, keeping his voice steady while he nailed his dance moves. They were enthusiastic and lots of fun. The only room for improvement lies in the order of their songs. Several of their new tracks from their latest album Bang sounded very similar to each other and they were grouped near the beginning of the performance, causing a bit of aural fatigue. This is a small price to pay for hearing the rest of a perfectly executed show, however. And even though they were a far cry from the primary-color clad crooners from my childhood, I can’t wait to hear them the next time they are in town.
TRR Concert Revue by Stephanie Taylor