–By Marie Taylor
–Photos by Ryan Ledesma
It was a packed house on Thursday, August 31st at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in downtown St. Louis as fans gathered to see the mega-popular a capella group, Pentatonix. The West Coast-based group became prominent after winning the 3rd season of the NBC show, The Sing Off, but really grew their audience with their Youtube Channel and their devotion to remixing popular songs.
Although there were many a capella groups to emerge after the success of the Hollywood Movie Pitch Perfect, Pentatonix remains one of the most successful groups to take the pop music industry by storm. Currently retaining its original members (more on that later), Pentatonix consists of vocalists Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Avi Kaplan, and Kevin Olusola.
I had no idea how devoted fans of Pentatonix were, and I almost lost some of my hearing due to clapping and shouting throughout the entire evening. Teenagers and seniors alike gathered to hear this unusual group, which was just as interesting to watch as it sounds.
Besides doing covers of “Jolene”, “Say Something”, “Radioactive”, and a mash-up of Michael Jackson songs, the group also performed their own music. Although I preferred the group’s covers to their original work, their own music has the potential to grab more fans in the future. A special cover of “Imagine” by John Lennon really brought the crowd to their feet, particularly when the group played a video in the background that showed each member highlighting the diverse aspects of their lives.
Anybody who has seen one of their videos can understand that each member of Pentatonix is extremely talented, but I was curious to see what each performer would bring to a live show. Although the group altogether can seem overwhelming (again, my hearing), there were key members that blew me away with their performances and on-stage charisma.
One of the best moments of the evening was listening to beatboxer Kevin Olusola play the cello and beatbox at the same time. Combining the beauty of the cello with the urban edge of beatboxing was a beautiful mashup of two very different musical worlds.
Pentatonix performed a riveting cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which they were admittedly nervous to do due to the song’s iconic status. Although it will never take the place of the original, their cover has been one of the best that I’ve seen of the legendary song. Mitch Grassi took the lead on this one to sing many of the parts originally performed by Freddie Mercury, and his performance was phenomenal. Grassi’s stage presence and tenor voice were the perfect match for a song like this, and knowing that an extremely talented and openly gay performer was doing justice to Freddie Mercury made the moment even more special.
One of the most understated, yet powerful, performances happened at the end of the evening when the group was wrapping up. The group stood in a semi-circle around an illuminated globe and sang a pared down and mic-less version of “Light in the Hallway”. Having never heard the song before, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of it and how the song highlighted the special vocal range of basso profondo Avi Kaplan. Kaplan announced in May that he will be leaving the group to slow down and spend more time with friends and family, so this performance was a special moment for the St. Louis audience to hear the song with the original lead.
While Pentatonix is known for their funky and modern remixes of popular songs, it was the paired down, simpler songs that really stood out to me. The combination of all five voices at once was sometimes overwhelming to hear, especially when one voice, or a couple of voices, would overshadow the others. Such is the balance that an a capella group should find, but overall the performance from Pentatonix was very enjoyable. I have no doubt that fans of Pentatonix will keep supporting them as they restructure their group and their sound.