Greeted with flashing purple spotlights and roaring applause, Pentatonix entertained the Andover crowd on Saturday with fresh and engaging acapella covers of contemporary pop hits.
Pentatonix, which first rose to prominence after winning the third season of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” consists of three original founding members and lead singers, Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, as well as vocal bassist Avi Kaplan and beatboxer Kevin Olusola ’06.
Starting their Andover concert off with an energetic performance of Beyonce´’s “Crazy in Love”, Pentatonix took instrument-free music to the next level as they showed off their nationally-acclaimed acapella skills through a wide range of popular music.
Olusola then kicked off a version of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thriftshop” with rhythmic beatboxing. A combination of Grassi’s quick and precise rapping and Maldonado’s smooth-flowing singing made the cover of the popular single one of the night’s highlights.
“I’m so impressed by [Pentatonix’s] ability to modify ‘Thriftshop’ into an acapella version. [Olusola’s] beatboxing effects complimented the piece so well that at times it seemed they were produced by a computer. It was really awesome,” said Dan Kim ’14.
Pentatonix’s performance of the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” featured choreographed robotic dancing and Olusula’s imitation of a rewinding tape recorder. The cover captured the nostalgic charm of the new wave original. Grassi and Maldonado’s harmonies in the song’s bridge further demonstrated the group’s vocal skills.
Out of all the songs performed during the evening, however, the group’s cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” stood out as most vulnerable and raw compared to the rest of their primarily upbeat setlist. While introducing “Love Lockdown,” the members spoke of their creative process where they shared emotions they related to the song with each other. The combination of Hoying, Kaplan and Grassi’s expressive, melodic lead parts during the verses and the group’s powerful harmonies during the chorus made the song one of the best of the night.
Before resuming their renditions of pop numbers, four of the Pentatonix members took a short break as Olusola wowed the audience with his unique combination of intricate and powerful simultaneous beatboxing and cello playing. Alternating between an unconventional guitar-like strumming motion and a more traditional bowing, Olusola created a wholly distinctive performance and received a standing ovation from the audience.
As Olusola played, the remaining four members gradually joined him for a performance of “Radioactive” by the rock band Imagine Dragons, featuring Hoying’s powerful lead vocal as well as outstandingly executed low bass notes by Kaplan. The song’s earnest chorus was accentuated by Olusola’s mournful cello.
“It was really cool because concerts [at Andover] are usually traditional classical music. It was great to see performers outside of the Music Department, and it appealed to people who aren’t necessarily music enthusiasts,” said Alex Westfall ’15. “The cello and beatboxing was my favorite part. [Olusola] is really such an important part of the group, and he’s so skilled and multi-talented. The group would be completely different without him!”
According to Olusola, his love for acapella stemmed from his time at Andover.
“I was in Yorkies when I was at Andover. I joined after one of the members heard me beatboxing in the bathroom and said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to join Yorkies!’” said Olusola. “But when I was at Yale, I never did much acapella. But I liked a lot of music, so I just imitated what I heard… Growing up as Nigerian and Grenadian, music was never really a viable career. I’ve always [known] that I had an interest [in music], but I didn’t know how to express that [interest] until I got into beatboxing.”
Additionally, one of the evening’s best moments was when the members of Pentatonix invited Aya Murata, Dean of Pine Knoll (PKN) Cluster and the main organizer of the event, to the stage for a public serenade. Grassi kicked off the ageless 1973 Marvin Gaye number “Let’s Get it On,” with Hoying joining in soon after as lead vocalist.
“It’s never what you expect to be up on stage being serenaded to, but I thought as long as I was up there, I might as well ham it up and have fun with it,” said Murata.
Along with their own set of dynamic performances, Pentatonix also included an interactive section that engaged all of the audience members with the concert. During the activity, Olusola and Kaplan divided the audience into three groups and taught them different melodies. At the end of the activity, the audience combined their voices to create a short yet cohesive acapella number.
“Being able to not only see Pentatonix but also sing with them is a truly remarkable experience. Since I think I’m such a horrible singer, to be a part of such beautiful music was simply phenomenal,” said Bach Hoang ’15.
Towards the end of the night, Kaplan showed off his unique ability to sing two vocal parts at once. According to Kaplan’s statement on stage, the vocal technique is called Khoomei, an overtone singing technique from Mongolia.
“[Kaplan] is such a talented person. His Mongolian singing just completely blew me away. I knew it had existed and there are monks that are trained to do that, but I had never actually heard anyone do it. It was very, very fascinating to hear [Kaplan] perform it!” said Catherine Choi ’13.
Although most felt the performance was an overall success, several logistical aspects detracted from the show. “Some aspects of the concert were a bit distracting, like how hard it could be to hear the vocals at times, because of how the sound was mixed and because of the audience’s screams. The lights were also overpowering at times,” said Maita Eyzaguirre ’14.
After their highly successful concert, Pentatonix held a master class on Sunday afternoon in which they advised members of Keynotes, the Yorkies, Azure and Fidelio on how to enhance their vocal performances.
All four groups performed and proceeded to receive both general and individualized feedback from Pentatonix.
“I liked that they didn’t just smile and say ‘Great job, guys.’ They actually gave the different groups specific, poignant advice. The Pentatonix members were very professional in their comments and I got the sense that they deeply cared about acapella,” wrote Henry Manning ’14, a member of Keynotes, in an e-mail to The Phillipian. “Plus, the workshop allowed us to see Avi do more overtoning.”
“We all grew up with music in our hearts, whether it was an escape or something we just loved to do,” added Grassi. “I feel like we don’t really work—it’s just a lot of fun.”
According to Hoying, Pentatonix originally started off as a trio, consisting of Hoying, Maldonado and Grassi before the addition of Olusola and Kaplan. Pentatonix’s performance was made possible through a generous grant from the Abbot Academy Association.