(NEW ORLEANS) — In a world where streaming services have made live performances into an artist’s only revenue source in some cases, it’s easy for them to rush into venues, perform, pick up a check, and plow into the next city without giving much thought to the quality of the music.
By that criteria, Pentatonix’s 2016 World Tour featuring Us the Duo wasn’t easy. Rather, it pushed all the right buttons to separate itself from any live act I’ve ever seen.
Before Pentatonix even took the stage at the UNO Lakefront Arena on Nov. 16, a group called Us the Duo helped ease the crowd into a more minimalist way to approach music. There were never more than two instruments being played at a time, and the space left empty by the absence of drum sets and electric guitars gave way to a stunning display of talent from husband-and-wife duo Michael and Clarissa Alvarado.
The ability of the two to switch between instruments at will combined with their touching vocals and improvisational nuances made me think about why I’d never caught wind of this group. Covers of songs displayed wit and skill, and original songs showcased beauty and natural musical creativity.
Needless to say, I’d pay to see them on their own. Beyond a simple 45-minute set, a full night of their music is a really exciting prospect.
After Us the Duo’s stirring cover medley, the audience was left with a 30-minute gap of time in which to wonder what could top the performance they’d just seen.
Luckily, Pentatonix did not disappoint, taking the stage to a raucous combination of lights, sound, and teenage angst rising all the way to the front of the stage to the cheap seats.
Their audience is primarily the younger demographic. In a refreshing change of pace, however, that didn’t mean that their music was going to lack the spark that would get any true music-lover going.
Songs ranged from uplifting, and at times reverent, covers to energetic originals. All of the above made me forget that I was at an a capella concert almost entirely, which I find to be Pentatonix’s most impressive characteristic. Consistently, I had to remind myself that the music I was hearing was all made by voices with zero instrumentation.
The difficulty and talent required to pull that off is unimaginable; so it’s easy to see why they are the most successful a capella group in modern pop culture history. If Pentatonix realizes one thing about what they do, it should be that true talent will always find a way to be recognized, even in a pop music world where the drum machine is becoming almost exclusively favored as opposed to a real human being behind a drum set.
Midway through the concert, a true spectacle of musical talent was unleashed by Kevin Olusola. In what I can imagine was a product of years of work and simultaneous musical skill, Olusola performed a stirring cello number followed by his own brand of “celloboxing”: that is, playing cello while beatboxing.
It seemed like a gimmick when I heard people telling me about it, but once I’d heard it, I knew for certain there was nothing cheap about it. There’s no two ways around the fact that Olusola is seriously good at what he does. The crowd was very much digging the show at that point.
One of the most instinctively awesome moments of the night was when Us the Duo was brought back onto the stage to perform a rendition of one of Pentaonix’s newest songs together. After being blown away by both ensembles, the star power of seeing them together made the moment all that sweeter.
The quintet showed that they weren’t distant to fan interaction, either. After a set of colorful bean bags were thrown onto the stage, the group hand-picked several audience members to come onto the stage to sing a number with them. Knowing the group’s immense popularity, I can only imagine how the fans on the stage felt, especially considering that one of the fans they picked was celebrating his birthday. Not surprisingly, he knew every word to the song and stole the show.
Capping off the night was an absolutely touching tribute to the recently-passed Leonard Cohen which saw a flurry of phone flashlights waving in the tangibly emotional air, putting a fitting end to a concert that effectively gave me an entirely new perspective on a capella music, which I’d never really considered to be an attractive musical genre. What I saw that night effectively flipped that idea on its head.
I’d really like to thank Pentatonix for an eye-opening show and Moxie Entertainment for providing tickets to this event. If you’re thinking about watching a stop on this tour, do it. Go to any length to do so. The price of admission truly pales in comparison to the amount of talent on the bill.