Saturday, June 22, 2024

Concert Review: “The Sing-Off” Live

NBC’s a cappella competition show, “The Sing-Off,” received short network shrift last year, with its entire fifth season condensed into one two-hour special. But the series’ live tour proved to be a more than acceptable consolation prize, stopping by Coral Springs Center for the Arts last night for an evening of unpredictable fun and vocal acrobatics that, like the TV show, rendered musical instruments superfluous.

The three touring acts, representing seasons two, four and five of “The Sing-Off,” opened the show with a riveting group version of the elastic Queen/David Bowie smash “Under Pressure,” a sprightly take that integrated barbershop-style crooning and scatting.

Last season’s finalists The Exchange performed the evening’s first full set, finding their forte in today’s Top 40 hits. They opened with Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” then tore through a couple of numbers from the series—the soulful thunder clatter of Ed Sheeren’s “Sing,” in which they nailed its impossibly high falsettos, and OneRepublic’s “Love Runs Out,” which proved that their members know when to hold back to magnify a song’s emotional impact. A crushing, bass-heavy “Radioactive” followed, but the Exchange’s most memorable moment was also its most unexpected: a spartan, heartfelt rendition of “Georgia On My Mind,” performed off-mic. Suddenly, it felt like The Exchange was singing in a giant living room; its vintage approach transfixed the auditorium.

Another surprise followed their performance, and set the tone for the next one. A few members from the three groups performed a hilarious ping-pong sketch that combined mime with beatboxing. It started with one member “bouncing” an invisible ball on an invisible paddle and then became a fiercely competitive doubles match that integrated slow-motion and took on the intensity of a climactic fight in a “Rocky” movie. It was something out of vaudeville, not a music show—a hilarious and endearing treat.

It was the perfect introduction to the highlight of the night: a set of comedy and music from VoicePlay, a quintet of Orlandoans that take the pomp and circumstance out of a cappella. Fronted by the charismatic Earl Elkins Jr.—imagine Freddie Mercury with Flock of Seagulls hair—the group’s set included an inspired parody of a “Now!” music compilation ad, complete with video help from Season Four winners Home Free, which saw VoicePlay satirize a medley of hits, from “Bang Bang” and “Drunk on a Plane” to “Animals” and “Let it Go.”

Then, they played the top 10 songs on iTunes’ Broadway chart in 30-second segments, resulting in a dizzying mash-up of Frankie Valli and Trey Parker, “Avenue Q” and “Les Miserables.” Next, they dragged an audience member onstage for an “audition” to be VoicePlay’s sixth member—except that only weknew what each audition entailed.

Nearly all of this material was presented as more of a sketch than a song, and it was liberating to watch a group that enforces the “Play” of its name as much as the “Voice.” Films like “Pitch Perfect” have emphasized the competitive nature of a cappella collectives, but it’s amazing to watch what a group like this can accomplish when liberated from the need to outperform its rivals.

Street Corner Symphony, a popular act from Season Two, closed the concert with its technically flawless take on classic-rock tunes by the likes of CCR, the Black Crowes and Chuck Berry, along with an original song, “Voodoo.” Of all the performers on this tour, SCS brought the most serious artistry to the stage, with vocal percussionists who managed to simulate upright bass, electric guitars, horns and a full drum kit. Excellent as they were, the performance couldn’t help but feel anticlimactic after the rousing, off-kilter brilliance of VoicePlay, which should have headlined. The three groups joined forces for two more numbers—a soaring “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and a mike-less “Fix You”—to send us home.

There were too many empty seats at the Coral Springs Center last night, but attendees certainly did find what they were looking for—a reminder of a cappella’s wellspring of talent that just might hold them over until the next season of “The Sing-Off;” we can only hope it will last more than one night.

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