Thursday, December 16, 2010

NBC's The Sing Off -- Episode 4

On tonight's episode of NBC's The Sing Off we inch one step closer to crowning a winner of the second season of this surprisingly entertaining a cappella music competition.  Don't let the short season mislead you, this is a terrific show with a wide range of talented groups showing how much you can do with just your voice and a well-positioned microphone (not unlike that guy in all those Police Academy movies).

The five remaining teams are remarkably different in style and make-up going from the let's-put-on-a-show excitement of the campy and fun University of Oregon's On the Rocks to the where's-my-walker calm of the Early Bird special eating Jerry Lawson and Talk of the TownThe Backbeats are a mixed marriage of former Bruins and Trojans trying to show the Middle East how peace is achieved: through music and choreography, apparently.  The last two teams are my personal favorites, the Gospel-singing Committed whose sexy vocals have them more in touch with their sinner, rather than saintly, side, and the good ol' Southern boys Street Corner Symphony.

Tonight five teams will compete for the three spots in the final.  After each team sings a medley of songs from an iconic music act, one will be eliminated and the remaining four will then perform the judge's choice song with one more team cut before the public voting begins.  At least, that was what was supposed to happen.  But in the spirit of rules were made to be broken, also known as, how were we supposed to know that the Backbeats would rock their last song, all four teams made it to the finals.  More on that in a bit.  Time for the show.

The five groups joined for an opening so underwhelming that at first I couldn't remember what they sang.  It was one of my least favorite Beatles' songs, With a Little Help from My Friends, and not just because of the Socialist sentiment in the title.  They sounded fine, the granddaddy of the competition Jerry Lawson had a nice moment, but it wasn't their best group performance. 

What was entertaining, though, was the Elton John medley by the group from the University of Oregon, On the Rocks.  They were fun, highlighted three different singers, and handled the transitions from the Bitch is Back to Bennie and the Jets to Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me with aplomb.  The standout performance was by the third singer who has the strongest voice in the group and delivered a heartfelt performance.  I loved the choreography and if you got points for moving that many guys around a relatively small stage without bumping into one another, they would have sailed on to the next round.

The sweet-faced Gospel group Committed went naughty once again, taking on an Usher medley.  I was unfamiliar with the songs, so I couldn't say whether they were accurate reflections of the originals, but I can say that those guys killed it!  I don't know what kind of a church they go to, but sign me up, because there was fire and passion in those performances.  They have some of the purest voices I've ever heard, even when signing in a provocative, smoldering style.  Amen!

Next up were my personal favorites, Street Corner Symphony, taking on my favorite group, the Fab Four.  A can't miss combination?  Not so much.  As smooth and seamless as the transitions between Elton John's three songs were in the preceding performance, that's how clunky the transition from the moody, somber Eleanor Rigby to the bouncy Help! felt.  I was worried for their longevity in the competition at the beginning of Help!, but they pulled it together and the next segment, Hey Jude, reminded me of why I love this group in the first place.  Excellent lead vocals by Jeremy Lister, well supported by the remaining five who took on backing vocals and instruments that blended beautifully to one wall of sound.

The Backbeats, the quickly slapped together supergroup of USC and UCLA alums, surprised me in a good way with their take on Lady Gaga.  They featured three different girls on lead vocals and the blonde who took on Poker Face, was a surprise. This team, that I ripped on for the first few blog posts, has really come into its own.  Maybe they just needed more time together or maybe it was my insightful suggestion that their designated lead tone down her angst and start enunciating.  Whatever it was, they're now in this competition.

Finally, the ringers in the contest, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town.  You thought I was going to make another hackneyed old person's joke here about how they sing a cappella because when they were younger, instruments hadn't been invented yet or how they think hip hop is the answer to "what has been replaced and what can you no longer do?"  But no.  These guys, ready for their cameo in the upcoming Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to the Senior Center, are pretty inspiring.  They are talented singers and savvy stage performers and, after listening to their fellow WWII baby Paul McCartney weakly warble and croak his way through last week's SNL, I have to give it to them.  They took on one of the best singers ever, Otis Redding, and did a terrific job.  No joke.

With those five performances the judges had a difficult time, but ultimately bid a fond farewell to the large contingent from Oregon who lived up to their YouTube hype and gave many entertaining performances.  Next it was judge's choice.  And, unlike on American Idol, being the favorite did not bring with it your own spotlight, backing choir, or fairy dust that keeps people from hearing when you are off key.  But I digress.

For Committed the judges chose Let's Stay Together.  It was a great choice, having the Gospel group do a song by the now Reverend Al Green and the guys showed their amazing depth and breadth of talent by having five of the six take a turn on the lead, moving from vocalist to vocalist with impeccable perfection (redundant, but accurate!).  The middle guy in particular has such a pure, crystaline voice in the upper register, he just blows me away.

Street Corner Symphony took on the fathers of Swamp Rock, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Down on the Corner.  Not a favorite CCR song and, as much as I loved John Fogerty, he was not what I would call a talented vocalist.  The fact that a guy from Oakland managed to sound like he'd never spent a minute above the Mason-Dixon line was impressive, but he would not have been asked to join his high school's glee club.  Having said that, the percussion on the song was flawless, the vocals were better than the original, and they did the most with a so-so song.

Now, let's revisit some of my earlier comments about the lead singer of theBackbeats.  I think I suggested that she go to the doctor to have him pulverize the kidney stone that was causing her so much pain as she sang.  Then I think I mentioned she should stop preparing for her upcoming role as Demosthenes and remove the marbles from her mouth.  Well, all's forgotten!  She sang the hell out of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide.  It was a revelation.  Someone should snap her up immediately.  She blew Stevie Nicks out of the water.  And the rest of the group?  Spectacular.   As soon as you can download that, do it. 

Last up was Jerry Lawson and the sexagenarian quintet.  They sang House of the Rising Sun by the Animals and it was great, but I was still catching my breath after having all I believed in crushed in ninety seconds of musical heaven. 

My guess is that the judges were all prepared to say goodbye to the Backbeats and send the other three to next week's final, but they were so blown away by the Backbeats' stellar performances tonight they couldn't cut them.  So instead of three all four teams were passed along to the public's vote.  Yep, it's now your turn.  But, in a move that should be embraced by all shows that don't want their outcome determined by some twelve year old with nimble fingers and no homework, only ten votes per voting method. 

You can call or text (again, up to 10 votes for each method used) from now until Sunday, December 19 at 9 am Eastern. Here are the numbers:

Committed: 1-877-6-Sing-01 or Text "1" to 97979

Street Corner Symphony: 1-877-6-Sing-02 or Text "2" to 97979

The Backbeats: 1-877-6-Sing-03 or Text "3" to 97979

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town: 1-877-6-Sing-04 or Text "4" to 97979

The winner will be revealed live Monday at 8 pm.  If you're setting your DVR, program it to run an extra half hour.

So who to vote for?  This is a tough one and it comes down to Committed and Street Corner Symphony for me.  Both of these groups have the talent to make a great record.  But since Street Corner Symphony is most likely to record in a genre that I'd actually listen to, I think they're getting all my votes.  But if I were casting for GLEE, I'd grab that girl from the Backbeats fast before someone else gets her.   She's actually pretty good.

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