As this was a surprise to me, courtesy of my sister and an upcoming birthday, I did no prep prior to this gig and had nothing to write notes on, so in terms of reviewing this won’t be the strongest.
I’ve long admired the work of Pentatonix since discovering their videos on YouTube. I’d never seen the US Reality Show which propelled them to fame, but their recreations of classic hits in their inimitable style has been something I’ve enjoyed watching for a few years.
Prior to the main event, we were entertained by husband-and-wife team Us The Duo – also known as multi-instrumentalists Michael and Carissa Alvarado. These two were amiable enough, playing a selection of instruments and singing well, but I wasn’t especially grabbed by the music itself. Nice enough to have in the background, but didn’t leave any lasting imprint in my mind.
Then it was time for good old PTX to take to the stage at the Albert Hall – which is a converted Wesleyan chapel and a phenomenal venue for a music gig. Beautiful structure and wonderful acoustics.
For those who don’t know, Pentatonix are a five-piece a cappella band – a beatboxer, a bass and three additional singers who provide fantastic harmonies. They came to my attention through a series of intriguing cover versions they released on YouTube, most notably one entitled Evolution of Music, whereby they catalogued musical history from 11th Century Gregorian Chanting to the present day chart hits (admittedly they skate through the first few centuries pretty quickly!)
Whilst appreciating their talent, I haven’t much followed their own musical output so the evening was split pretty evenly for me in terms of entirely new music and some firm favourites, but the rest of the crowd appeared to be fully immersed in each number, singing along with the harmonies of the three main vocalists. Personally, the main draw for me is the combination of bass and beats – vocalist Avi Kaplan’s range is incredible, such a rich sound he produces. And Kevin Olusola’s beatboxing skills keep breathing life into the songs throughout the night.
Their Michael Jackson and Daft Punk medleys stormed the night, as one expected they would. Covering the entire career of an artist like MJ in a five minute segment is pretty impressive, but the stylistic delivery of his various musical changes throughout his life is equally wonderful. The Daft Punk medley is cleverly done, attributing vocal performances to electronic music is no mean feat, and they achieve a rich sound and give songs like Technologic a whole new feel.
For me, the highlight of the night was a pretty low key but special solo moment, where most of the band left the stage for a short break, leaving the group’s beatboxer Kevin Olusola to take centre stage with his cello for a rendition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No.1. A single spotlight, a cello, and a beatboxer might not sound the most electrifying event but the atmosphere was incredible. Whilst initially providing an intimate contrast to preceding events, the piece built up to a thunderous applause at the finish. I could gladly listen to that over and again.
Pentatonix are currently continuing their tour around Europe throughout May and June, and will tour the USA from September.