BY ZACHARY HANSEN/AJC Features Intern
Pentatonix has built one of the largest online followings of any music act, boasting a YouTube channel with over 11.5 million subscribers and video views surpassing 1.8 billion views. The a cappella group’s aesthetic, makeup design and creativity, not to mention raw vocal talent, give their videos a strong sense of personality and energy, no doubt propelling them to the level of fame they currently have.
But how well does this translate to the live stage? As it turns out, very well.
First of all, they made the ingenious decision to have Abi Ann and Us the Duo open for them in that order, which is particularly important. By having Abi Ann open first, with her bluesy, swing rock style, the audience is immediately introduced to live instrumentation provided by a full band and the impact that comes with it. Everyone in the Infinite Energy Arena Wednesday night could feel it.
Us the Duo then come out next, sporting a much more minimalistic sound. The husband and wife duo are the only two on the stage — completely living up to their name, and most songs featured only one instrument, such as a piano, bass or acoustic guitar. Once or twice, Michael Alvarado would even beatbox to add an extra element to the mix.
Not only did this foreshadow the a cappella soon to come from Pentatonix, it also served as a smooth transition from a full-fledged band to only five people with microphones. And both are supposed to pack the same punch.
An unfortunate reality with a cappella is that no matter how talented the members are, they can’t fully replicate live instrumentation solely with their voices, which is especially true in a live setting. This is most apparent in the low end of the mix, and even though Kevin Olusola, percussion, and Avi Kaplan, bass, are top-notch at their respective crafts, you won’t feel the same thumping in your chest from them as you would a meaty bass hook or kick drum.
However, since Pentatonix included Us the Duo as a stepping stone between the two acts, the switch from live instrumentation to a cappella seems barely noticeable in context, which is an incredible accomplishment.
From there, Pentatonix did a fantastic job recreating some of their most viral hits, such as their Daft Punk mashup and Michael Jackson tribute. The group also took time to promote their new holiday album, “A Pentatonix Christmas,” with the performance of “Hallelujah,” which was also dedicated to its songwriter who passed away on Nov. 7, Leonard Cohen.
Some of the other highlights of the show include when Us the Duo joined Pentatonix on stage to perform Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Olusola showing off his classically trained cello skills while beatboxing on top of it was another crowd-pleaser — and it served as a great transition into a cover of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” Also, anytime any of the other members, Kirstin Maldonado, Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying, hit a high, sustaining note, the crowd went completely wild.
The low points of the concert will really just depend on the audience member’s preferences. For example, those of us who can’t stand Meghan Trainor, which really should be all of us, won’t enjoy the cover of her hit “No.” The aforementioned “Jolene” is surely not going to convert country-haters either, and the list goes on with every genre change.
That’s the trade off that comes with variety — while you’re sure to please everyone that doesn’t mean every song is salvageable in the first place, even though Pentatonix did each of the original songs they covered justice.
Nonetheless, Pentatonix did a magnificent job of prepping the audience for a cappella in a live setting, and the members’ talented vocal pipes and arrangements carried the show successfully from there.