So, you know how, when you were a kid, there were those things you were so excited for, you could hardly stand the anticipation? Your birthday (oh please please please let me get that Cabbage Patch doll and also could my best friend sit by me at the party because otherwise the universe will be out of alignment)… Christmas (IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE SANTA IS COMING OMG OMG OMG!!!!)… Summer vacation (there is NO. MORE. SCHOOL and I will eat push-pops and wear Jams and be filthy dirty all day long)… Grandma’s house (ARE WE THERE YET? ARE WE THERE YET?? ARE WE THERE YET???)… the latest episode of Family Ties (now that Mallory is dating Nick, this is gonna be awesome!)… when your parents finally allowed you to watch Dirty Dancing even though it was PG-13 (anyone who interrupts me watching Baby be put in a corner can suck it)…
The excitement was practically tangible; you thought you might crawl out of your skin, with each moment of the day ticking by at a glacial pace (especially if you were in algebra – or maybe that’s just me). And then you worried that The Big Thing, whatever you’d been waiting on and hoping for and dreaming about in your mind, wouldn’t live up to your expectations. After all, you’d been imagining it for so long, how could it possibly?
My freshman year at college, I joined an a cappella group, the Conn Chords. I had little singing experience and certainly no great solo voice, but I could blend nicely and pick out harmonies like nobody’s business. I also had a decent ear for arranging, and wound up creating a whole bunch of arrangements for our group, eventually becoming the leader (or “pitch,” in a cappella geek terms).
Nick was in an a capella group, too, which is how we first wound up meeting (well, save for the second day of school where I might have droned obnoxiously on and on about my AP classes to our mutual college advisor… but that’s another story…). Without any sororities or fraternities, these fellow singers became our college families; our undergraduate experiences were not only deeply enriched, but took on entirely new purpose and meaning by belonging to our respective groups.
As music majors, we were already music geeks (you know, the ones who make jokes about violists and the length of Wagnerian operas and use “deceptive cadence” as sexual innuendo…. Okay, maybe you don’t know, but trust me, we did), but singing a cappella – and learning how to listen to a cappella songs – took our nerdiness to a whole new level. Blend and tone and breathing in sync and vowel matching and resolving dissonance and omg, that bass can actually hit a low C became a second language, and also second nature. I already found joy in a cappella music, but after college, I sought it out actively, hoping to come upon that perfect sound, that moment when the voices come together and everything opens up and your body relaxes and leaps simultaneously because it is just so damn fantastic.
Glee obviously helped bring a cappella into the mainstream, with movies like Pitch Perfect fueling the fire. But Nick’s and my very favorite celebration of a cappella awesomeness is the NBC reality show The Sing Off, which features voices and only voices. That the judges are actually competent and musically intelligent is a huge boon (plus, Nick Lachey’s awfully easy on the eyes), but the best part is the music – hearing how the groups have arranged their songs, listening for new and interesting approaches, reveling in those gorgeous and powerful sounds that only a cappella singing can offer.
The first two seasons were fine – good, actually – but the third season was like nothing we’d ever witnessed before, all because of five unbelievable performers: Pentatonix. I can’t begin to do them justice, to describe how their music fills the room despite only having five singers; how they sound absolutely and completely like a “real” band even though they’re only using their voices; how they push the bounds of arranging and create music that I’ve never even imagined, much less heard; how they fill the space within the chords so that the sound is deep and rich and lush, like a full-on choir; how their voices blend so utterly perfectly; how their control and pitch are out of this world; how ridiculously good each performer is; how every time I hear another of their songs, my jaw drops open in shock and amazement and unadulterated joy – and no, I’m not even kidding, I watch them and my jaw drops. open.
They are ridiculous. They are sublime. They are making music that has never been made before, that none of us has ever heard before. They are fun. They are so freakin’ young. They possess more talent than the vast, vast majority of successful musicians and bands out there. They make me think and laugh, actually laugh out loud at the audacity of what they are attempting. They make me smile.
Everything about Pentatonix makes me happy.
And so, after having adored them on The Sing Off, after watching each YouTube video clip 297 million times, after having purchased each of their songs, after having dissected their music with Nick a hundred times over, after reading their website every day and following them on every form of social media I can… when I learned that they would be performing in Buffalo, only a little more than an hour from us, I knew that we would need to attend.
There was no choice, really. Surely you understand.
I bought the tickets months ago from an online seller (after the show sold out almost immediately) and forced myself not to count the days until the big night. I knew that if I gave it too much thought, it would be Family Ties and Christmas and Cabbage Patch dolls all over again, and I’d hardly sleep a wink for weeks.
When yesterday finally arrived, that familiar wash of apprehension settled in. Could they possibly begin to live up to the hype? Could they truly be the most talented a cappella group in the history of ever? Could they really sound as good in person as they do online (yes, I know it’s a Christmas song, but it’s the best thing ever, so deal with it)?
The answer is no. They do not.
They sound even better.
Excuse the poor quality of the photos; I didn’t realize I could take my big camera with me and used my iPhone instead. I was also maybe yelling a lot.
Since I’d bought the tickets second hand, I wasn’t 100% certain where the seats were… but I thought they might be in the first row.
Yep, that’s them, only 20 feet from us.
Or maybe only seven feet from us.
One of the speakers was positioned directly in front of us, and in addition to, you know, magnifying and projecting the sound in general, it also did a bang-up job of putting out the bass and percussion sounds – so bang-up, actually, that there were moments when my chest hurt because I could feel the vibrations so strongly.
Vibrations, mind you, that were caused by human voices.
Just because it’s a cappella doesn’t mean they can’t get down.
In an a cappellian way, of course. Yes, that’s a word. Because I said so.
Okay, so there was some cheating, because this guy, Kevin, beatboxes and plays the cello. Simultaneously.
I can forgive them this discretion.
But, aside from that performance and one delicious performance with the cello as a supporting player, the show was, indeed, a cappella. And it was freakin’ awesome.
Still rockin’ out during their final song, after the confetti and streamers had dropped (which, to quote this review, is basically “the a capella version of pyrotechnics”).
The crowd LOVED them, in that nerdy music geek way, shrieking like the Beatles had landed at the conclusion of each song. I may have yelled a bit myself.
Just joking with the crowd… We totally ate it up.
I think I’m old enough to be their mother, but I spent the evening pinching myself like a teenaged fangirl that we were hearing them, for real, and that they really were as amazing as the hype.
I did go rogue and break the official rules by videoing some of my favorite songs… but I won’t break the rules even further by posting the videos here. You can go to their YouTube site and check them out; what you’re hearing is no trick. There’s nothing added in. They really do sound like that.
I know, right?
It’s not often that our imaginations keep pace with reality, but in the case of Pentatonix, they more than met my expectations. The a cappella geek in me is awestruck. The music lover in me is satisfied. And the rest of me? I’m just damn freakin’ happy.