PENTATONIX LIVE IN MANILA: AN ECSTATIC PTXPERIENCE

Panoramic view from Pentatonix’s perspective (image courtesy of Pentatonix)

Though I’m reeling from a high after attending the Pentatonix concert, I have to begin this blog on a somber note.  Originally, the Manila concert was slated to be held on Friday, 05 June, but with an additional concert date in Jakarta, Indonesia for 04 June, they moved the schedule of this concert to Saturday, 06 June, and added a date the following day at the Waterfront Cebu.  It so happens that the date of the concert was also the first anniversary of my brother’s death.

After my night shift ended that Saturday morning, I went straight home so I can join my family to commemorate my brother’s passing.  We all trooped to Christ the King where my brother’s remains were buried, and we dedicated a full rosary and a whole litany of the prayers of the dead for him.  After that, we went to Buffet 101 in Robinson’s Magnolia for lunch where we were joined by one my brother’s best friends and reminisce about him.  It was a sumptuous feast, and it was nice trading stories about him to keep his memory alive.

On our way home after the lunch, I took a nap in the car, and when we were near our house, an argument erupted–because my dad objected to my sister’s plans to visit a sick friend in Las Piñas (because it’s rather far from where we live and he’s not familiar with the place, and he worried about her safety even if my sister assured him she’ll be taking precautions and she wouldn’t need my dad to drive her there as she’ll be taking a cab) and the fact that I’ll be attending this concert  despite the fact that I barely had sleep.  Sure I was recovering from a cold, but I’ve had encountered these situations before and I managed to get by even with three-hours’ sleep previously and nothing’s going to stop me from seeing my favorite group.  When we were finally at home at 2:30 PM, I went straight to bed to sleep and recuperate as much as I could.

I woke up like clockwork at 5;45 PM, and I quickly freshened up and prepared myself.  Around this hour, I felt that it might be a challenge to get a cab from my place to the Araneta Coliseum, but since the Araneta Coliseum was accessible by LRT (it will take two rides, one the LRT-1 line along Taft, then connect at the Doroteo Jose station to take the LRT-2 from Recto), I took that path.  The LRT-1 ride was a bit of a sardine experience as even on a Saturday, it could be overcrowded, but it was a relief after I disembarked at Doroteo Jose and walked to take the LRT-2 from Recto to Cubao, there was seating room, so that second leg was a breeze.

I made it to the venue at 7:00 PM, and I entered the red gate (where those with Patron and VIP seats enter) and found my seat was pretty ideal–a center seat that is pretty close to the stage (Row 9).  I scoured around and by 7:45 I noticed the Coliseum was at full capacity–I saw all sections all filled up, including the bleachers.  I was mightily pleased at what I saw.  Though the Binibining Pilipinas coronation night does draw a significant crowd, there would be some empty sections, unlike in this concert which was filled to full capacity.

Without advanced announcement (as most would expect in concert events), at 8 PM sharp the Coliseum lights dimmed to indicate the concert was about to begin–and the crowd roared in delight in anticipation.  The screams escalated as the five members entered the stage, and the screams turned into a sing-along as the group launched into their cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem”.  The energy and enthusiasm of the audience (including myself) never let up even up to the very end.

Now, let me feature some highlights, observations and new covers featured in this concert tour.

They only have one outright new cover, which they sang as they went off the stage to shake hands with the fans–the Rihanna / Kanye West / Paul McCartney (with uncredited backup vocals from the 1990s trio Wilson Phillips) hit “Four Five Seconds”.  It’s a lovely lark, but the highlight was the last verse prior to the final chorus, where we get to hear Kevin sing with Avi in a duet and then blend their voices–I love it when I get to hear these fresh combinations.

The other newer covers either serve as intros for one of their concert staples, or as part of a medley to one of their originals.  The Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars mega-smash “Uptown Funk” served as their intro to their cover to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”, and you know there will always be a “chair girl” they serenade to–in this case, Eve Riza Katalbas was the lucky chair girl.

 

For their cover of Imogen Heap’s “Aha!”, Avi, Mitch, Kirstie, and Scott went on what they dub as their opera intro (this was the section after Kevin’s cello sequence and their cover of Stromae’s “Papaoutai” so in this section Keven was away to set his cello aside before joining in for “Aha!”).  It was a nice nod to a cappella’s classical roots and it does make a good segue to “Aha!”.  I wish I know the name of that piece…

Then there’s their cover of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free”, which they fused it as a medley with their original song, “See-Thru”.  It’s a great mash-up, but obviously the Filipino audience sang the Ariana Grande song with lustier gusto (though we also sang along to the “See-Thru” part, too).

Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is also a chief concert staple, as this was the first song they ever performed as a group, but I have to note they put a nice little twist on the “Eh-eh-eh-eh” hook as unlike in previous versions, they slowed it down to a chilled out reggae groove.  See if you can spot it and compare it with the version on their previous tours.

Speaking of the “cello” portion of the concert, I observed Kevin’s cello seemed different as it was trotted in–it looked like an outline of a cello instead of the usual gigantic wooden instrument you would think of–I suppose it’s for easier transport (especially for a lengthy tour) and it probably is electric for better amplification.  I wonder if Kevin has a nickname for this cello?  Is it also “Beyonce”, or another name?

Of course the climax of the concert was “On My Way Home”, when the audience is divided into three sections to sing the differing parts of the chorus.  I was in the center section so I was “Team Mitch”. (“Team Scott” was to my right and “Team Kirstie” was to my left).  We Filipinos followed them and sang with them with aplomb–this is a such a terrific song, you know.

After that number, of course the audience demanded an encore, and after chants of “PTX” and “Encore”, we then sang the chorus of “On My Way Home” before they returned to the stage.  They then treated us with their original song “That’s Christmas to Me” where Scott instructed us to be silent so they can perform the song without microphones.  This was the only moment where the we the audience were not our enthusiastic energetic selves as we obediently complied to Scott’s request.  It was a beautiful moment, and their voices were heard loud enough even across the bleachers, so after they’re done we of course gave our enthusiastic ovation.

As their finale, of course we need to hear their Grammy-winning “Daft Punk” medley.  As expected, this masterpiece is terrific (and yes, the audience sang along to it) and is a perfect way to leave the audience in a high that lasted for days.

It was 90 minutes of my life totally well spent and well worth the VIP admission.  I of course would want more, but we all know how constantly singing for almost 90 minutes non-stop is a gargantuan task and they do need to rest for all their gigs to come.  I lingered in the Coliseum a bit to post my pics on Facebook before I hailed a cab home, and had one of my most peaceful and blissful sleeps in ages.  This was a concert experience that I will forever remember for the ecstatic joy it brought me.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

A PENTATONIX UPDATE: LIVE IN MANILA!!! PLUS THE STORY SO FAR…

For Filipino Pentaholics like myself, the most resounding news came during Maundy Thursday:  Pentatonix will be touring Southeast Asia, and Manila is part of the itinerary–their concert is on 05 June.  On top of that, they will be performing at the Araneta Coliseum.  Now, in most of the venues Pentatonix has performed in thus far, they are generally from 1,000- to 5,000-seat venues.  The Araneta Coliseum’s seating capacity is about 16,000.  I’m not sure if there are enough Filipino Pentaholics out there who could fill out the Coliseum but you never know, considering Metro Manila has about 13 million inhabitants, bigger than most US cities or even entire European countries.  I wonder if they’ll be seeing some sights while here in this country as this concert is two days after their scheduled Jakarta, Indonesia gig, and they will then go to Japan five days after this concert.  Would they find time to promote their concert with noontime variety show appearances on It’s Showtime or Eat Bulaga?

This is also the perfect opportunity to do my long-belated update of the goings on with this group, and the past four months has been highly eventful.  When I last blogged about them, their Christmas album That’s Christmas to Me has gone platinum and ended up the fourth biggest selling album for 2014.   They capped the year with some notable TV performances.  One is  their medley of pop songs at the German variety show Wetten Dass..? in mid-December.  The Wetten Dass..? medley basically was a tribute to previous musical guests on the show, as that episode was the last broadcast for that variety program.  Many Pentaholics enjoy hearing them do more of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feeling”, though mentally (including myself) couldn’t help thinking about them immediately seguing to those other songs from their famous “Evolution of Music” medley. and going “Baby, baby, baby, ooohhh….” (from Justin Bieber’s “Baby”).  It’s also a treat to hear their versions of the Backstreet Boys’ “As Long as You Love Me”, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”, Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball”, and Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors”.

They later then performed at the Kennedy Center Honors, paying tribute to Tom Hanks by singing the song “That Thing You Do”.  True, there was a band that came in halfway through their performance, but Pentatonix remained terrific here.

Then early February came and one big dream was finally fulfilled–Pentatonix won a Grammy!  They won for best arrangement for “Daft Punk” (yes, it was a 2013 recording, but the Grammy eligibility period is from October 2013 to end-September 2014 and “Daft Punk”–and PTX, Vol. II for that matter–was released in November 2013), which is a great win.  Actually having checked who the other nominees were, it was obvious this group will win.  Now, let’s see if they’ll receive nominations for That’s Christmas to Me at the end of this year, or even perhaps their upcoming studio album.  It’s nice how Scott noted in his acceptance speech that they recorded the song in a closet then filmed their video in a kitchen–but with more than 127 million views as of this writing, this now-YouTube video classic still looks and sounds stunning to this day.

It was reported prior to their Grammy win, they performed at Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party performing a medley of Bee Gees in tribute to the sole surviving member of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb.  I wish we have footage of that performance–the only footage I could find is the highlight reel below (you can hear them from 2:46 onwards to the end).  I suppose another consolation besides the highlight reel is the group featured in Clive Davis’s annual all-star class photo.

Most of the group’s energies since then has been on the tour, but that didn’t stop them from branching out and pursue other musical pursuits outside of the group.  The Superfruit duo of Scott and Mitch posted a Broadway-styled medley featuring three current pop songs–Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”, Nick Jonas’ “Jealous”, and Ariana Grande’s “Break Free”–and collaborated with singer/Broadway star Shoshana Bean and framed it as a love triangle story,  It’s almost akin to the “Frozen” medley they performed a year earlier, and yes, Mitch was wearing the blonde wig again.

Superfruit continued on with their version of Nicki Minaj (featuring Beyonce) “Feeling Myself”.  It’s really good, with both Mitch and Scott showcasing how well they can navigate rap rhythms.  Though, I still am more impressed with their medleys of Beyonce, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

Kirstie started to also branch out on her own.  She played a muse on the acoUstiKats video for “I’ll Be Home This Christmas” (as she’s become the girlfriend of one of the members, Jeremy Michael Lewis).  She is not heard here, not seen, but still it’s worth watching.

Finally, she got heard as she collaborated with high school a cappella group Forte on a cover of Ariana Grande’s “Why Try”.  Though Forte is supposed to be the main artist, all the lead vocals here are done by Kirstie, and she, as expected, did a great job.

But the one who has the highest profile branching out is Kevin, as he released his own EP, The Renegade.  This is of course a showcase/outlet for his cello skills and he released three videos promoting the album.

The first was a cover of Sam Smith’s mega-smash, “Stay With Me”.  It was performed with Kevin starting some founding plucks, riffs and beats and then looping them as he then played melodic lines over the loops.  It’s definitely a treat and a worthwhile instrumental cover.

The next video he put out was a cover of John Legend’s “All of Me”.  This time, it’s about overlapping cellos and no beatboxing.  It’s more a classical crossover showcase for this number.

He then featured his original composition, “Renegade”.  If I’m not mistaken, he performed this in their previous tour, but I never realized the song starts with ethereal wordless singing before it went into rhythmic territory.  I love it.  The video can also serve like a sequel to Pentatonix and Lindsey Stirling’s cover of “Radioactive”, as it seems to be shot around the same desert setting.

The EP also featured two tracks that he previously recorded and posted on YouTube.  There was his first famous piece, “Julie-O”, that was the first time the world has heard of him and his cello-boxing skills (and also by fate ultimately led him to become part of Pentatonix).  The other track was his strinq quartet version of Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack”, which he posted on YouTube in July 2013.  For a classical music album, it did pretty well, debuting at No. 53 in the Billboard 200 (but actually debuting at No. 20 if you only count album sales and not streaming and individual track sales).  He also momentarily dislodged Lindsey Stirling at the top of the Classical Crossover chart.  I think one of these days the Classical Crossover chart will be basically Kevin or Lindsey trading places at the chart summit.

Finally, to express his religious faith (he’s a devout Seventh-Day Adventist), he released a single, called “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”.  No beatboxing for this number–just a single cello with differing musical moods and textures.  The video also has a visual cue to a previous Pentatonix video–remember “Little Drummer Boy”?  It seemed to be filmed on the same hilltop site overlooking the city of Los Angeles.

I just bought a ticket to watch their concert–it’s a bargain compared to, say, One Direction, as the price is bearable enough.  I’m like the Filipino Pentaholics out there squealing with excitement and looking forward to Friday evening, June 5, to watch this incredible group live in concert.  Two months might seem to be a long wait, but time will pass, and that moment will soon arrive. [In my fangirl mode] SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER PENTATONIX UPDATE: BRANCHING OUT PLUS OTHER A CAPPELLA YULETIDE TREATS

Besides all the flurry of activity related to PTX Vol. III and That’s Christmas to Me, some group members still have the time and energy to branch outside of the group and do their own stuff, and garner buzz with their output.

Let’s start with Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi’s ongoing Superfruit channel–occasionally this duo would treat us with musical numbers like the Beyonce and Miley Cyrus medleys.  Well, they’re at it again, this time condensing Taylor Swift’s 1989 album into a four-minute medley.  Check the stunning results below:

Bassist Avi Kaplan released two videos on his own–the latest is a collaboration with a cappella soloist Peter Hollens called “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”.  It’s an interesting ballad, I have to say…

Earlier, Avi came out with his own version of Meghan Trainor’s hit “All About That Bass”, and the internet press went abuzz about the fact this is a cover version sung by a bass.  But Avi got some assist in this video with sweet soulful harmonies from Mario Jose and Naomi Samilton.  See the fun video below:

As fun and amusing as that video was, with burgers and fries and Ken doll props to underscore the “size doesn’t matter” message of the song, I find the song rather earnest in comparison with another version of the song–Home Free’s version.  I know my post from last January comparing between Home Free and Pentatonix in one-on-one battles still get some Home Free fans up in arms until now, well, here is a case where I actually preferred the Home Free version.  For me, Home Free’s version had more LOL moments and interesting treats, such as Tim “Loki” Foust moving up from bass to tenor in the first portion of the song, then the wacky rave-up at the end.

Now speaking of Home Free, they also got into the Christmas mix as they released a Christmas album called Full of Cheer with their version of “Angels We Have Heard on High”.  It’s sweet, solemn, and set in church.  It’s nice to hear Rob “Babydaddy” Lundquist taking the lead here, and the harmonies are lovely and buttery smooth.  It’s also done in a more formal choral arrangement, so we get to hear Adam Rupp sing instead of beatbox.  I know Pentatonix has a version of this song but I will not make comparisons this time and I’ll just enjoy this version in its own terms:

On a final note, I also like to share a video of another popular a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, as they have released a song with Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars and the voice of Anna in Frozen) with a timely original song called “Text Me Merry Christmas”.  It’s a fun treat so check it out.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH