double review of PTX‘s Berlin show (November 14th, 2013) by Patrick Oliver and Indra Tedjasukmana
Don’t believe the hype, some say. But can one really speak of a “hype” watching Pentatonix’ blitz career? Winners of NBC’s The Sing-off 2011, YouTube sensation, entering Billboard Top10 without a record deal, a sold-out European premiere with a whirlwind tour visiting most European capitals. Any way you look at this group of early twenty-somethings, they have finally reached what many in a cappella kept talking and talking about: They’ve gone totally mainstream. All kind of kids, many of whom have never heard the term a cappella before “Pitch Perfect”, are now sharing their PTX love via the TV of the PTX generation: YouTube.
As a matter of fact, the German vocal music aficionados (No, I’m not calling them the “A Cappella Police”) went to see Pentatonix when they did their first ever show in Germany’s capital, Berlin. The venue, Passionskirche, a church used for concerts on a regular basis was a quite unusual place for both the teenaged audience and for the five US singers. And reading the Patrick Oliver’s (singer with vocal groups Musix, ONAIR, Hartmuth & die Hitmaschine) and Indra Tedjasukmana’s (singer and beatboxer with Sonic Suite and the first student in Germany to write his doctoral thesis on the topic of a cappella) reports, that venue and the surprisingly low-profile sound and lighting system played a big role in this first encounter of the US pop newcomers and the German a cappella intelligentsia. Enjoy the read!
MY BERLIN DATE WITH PENTATONIX (by Patrick Oliver)
It could have been so great! Hard to imagine, this smile I would be wearing today while strolling down the streets of Berlin, if only this concert had taken place in Columbiahalle, at Postbahnhof or maybe even at Admiralspalast. Regarding the fact, that the November 14th show was sold out after only two weeks, a significantly larger venue would have been filled nicely, too. Well, at least they could have equipped Passionskirche (the church where the concert eventually took place) with a decent sound system. And if the group had been taken care of by an experienced sound engineer, I would be such a happy guy today. And I would have climaxed a bunch of times, if they hadn’t only covered Pentatonix with cold, white light but a tasteful lighting concept.
They didn’t. And so I sat on the brink of my chair wondering what to think of all this. It all began quite impressively: Long before the doors opened, an large number of waiting fans queued in front of the church. Something I’ve never seen at an a cappella concert before. And how young these people were! Lots of (really good-looking) people, who probably didn’t take any particular interest in a cappella music: they just were so much into Pentatonix – the boy/girl group phenomenon. “If I had known that this will be like at a Robbie Williams show, I would have come earlier”, someone said while waiting.
The concert started with a delay of fifteen minutes, but then it took off like a rocket! The five singers entered the stage accompanied by Michael Jackson-style ovations. For two minutes they just stood there enjoying the cheers. The moment they started their first song, one thing became clear quickly: You could hardly hear the singers as soon as the crowd went wild.
However, they were doing a great job! They were fully present right from the first moment and dove deep down into the music. They lived and loved every little note, every breath, celebrate every musical change. Despite of the difficult environment, it became very clear that five exceptionally gifted artists created something very special here. And they were so aware of it and gave it their all.
Avi demonstrated overtone singing combined with soul phrasing, Kevin played the cello and beatboxes at the same time – which he shouldn’t have done, as the beatbox sounded terribly. But not even the worst of all sound engineers would have been able to destroy the cello performance: Crazy double stops and innovative blues riffs would have been worth the ticket price of that night.
Mitch never hesitated to conquer the vocal stratosphere and get his spontaneous applause. Scott shone with his charismatic voice and his intense glare. And Kirstie? She had her great moments, but generally she made a rather insecure impression, sometimes even in a bad temper. If she was unnerved by the acoustics, I could feel for her. On certain days, this can truly spoil your day, no matter how much the audience celebrates. Anyway, the way the five filled even the smallest melodic lines with love and passion was so inspiring. They love every single song they do, they just don’t do “that song we just have to do for the crowd.”
Let’s sum it up like that: Everything that happened before the microphone was world class. What followed was a sad chain of errors. The bass lacked exactly that range that one needs for defined bass notes and a proper bass drum. There was nothing but a sub bass mish-mash. The show ended after 90 minutes without intermission and they were gone like true stars.
I stayed behind with a certain dissatisfaction. It could have been great sex. But all I got was petting. I was told there might be the chance of another date next year. I’m going to come – hopefully.
POP, NOT PUERLING (by Indra Tedjasukmana)
Pentatonix are one of the most discussed groups at the moment, amongst pop music listeners and fans as well as amongst vocal groups and a cappella singers. There seem to be the ones who like them, support them, welcome the fact that an all-vocal group is joining the ranks of mainstream pop stars. And there also seems to be the other half that critizices PTX for selling their looks, images, that they dress as Wizard of Oz characters, Daft Punk robots and do lots of covers.
NOW: I won´t go into this discussion here! This is a concert review.
I saw PTX’s show at “Passionskirche”, a church in Berlin a few days ago. The church was jampacked, fans were screaming, holding up self-made fan posters etc.
When PTX walked on stage the audience greeted them loudly and with lots of applause. So much and so long that they had to wait until they could start. The concert itself was – in a nutshell – highly energetic. Lots of covers (that they are known for also directly relating to their YouTube videos) and some originals. The sound actually was an issue, as the church turned out to be a difficult place for that kind of bass and beatbox based sound. Oftentimes harmonies and chords were overshadowed by rumbling bass frequencies. PTX was pretty tight in terms of staging, energy, timing and when they were singing “Run to you”, a ballad completely without microphones in the church, one could hear that they are highly trained vocalists and that they do understand blending and the tradition of group like Singers Unlimited, The Real Group et al.
Pop music and YouTube fans got exactly what they wanted: a groovy, loud concert, the characters of the 5 being played out nicely. A cappella fans who were looking for harmony, understanding of the middle voices and blending were probably not excatly happy and I understand their frustration in terms of sound in that church. Others who might have been expecting something totally new and unheard of were probably be disappointed. PTX is a pop group. Fresh. Solid.Groovy. Very skilled. They are not Take 6 or Gene Puerling in a harmonic sense nor do they intend to be. PTX is one of the first groups alongside Naturally 7 and The Exchange to really break into the international pop music business.
Fulfillment or disappointment have a lot to do with what you expect. It is not exactly a secret that PTX is a group that is internationally marketable, they have a clear image and are strongly working through their personalities.
Those who were disappointed by the concert and have expressed this by tweeting or facebooking exactly this are certainly entitled to have their opinion. Maybe it is a good thing though to check what those expectations were. The only thing I found problematic was the sound. Other than that it was a cool pop concert with “Run to you” as a silent moment in which the level of musicality that this group does have was nicely displayed. Deke Sharon once said “Haters gonna hate”. Lovers gonna love. And PTX is going to be on the rise if they continue like that.
Thanks Indra and Patrick for your Berlin report. Now everybody, it’s your time to comment on their articles. Doesn’t matter if you were there or not – what is your impression of Pentatonix? Why do you think they have become so popular in less than two years? And do you think there will be more all-vocal groups breaking into the mainstream?