Saturday 23 November 2013

Pentatonix @ O2 Academy Islington

A capella singing may seem like a niche genre, made mainstream by the likes of Glee and Pitch Perfect.  But it’s clear that American five-piece the Pentatonix are set to change that.  At this, their first ever gig in the UK, the self-confessed “choir nerds” were overwhelmingly treated like superstars.

And rightly so.  Originally started by school friends Scott, Mitch and Kirstie (and later joined by Avi and Kevin), the singers rose to fame on American talent show ‘The Sing Off’ – basically X Factor for choirs.  Since then they’ve run a hugely popular YouTube channel, released three albums and are now embarking on a European tour.

As such, their setlist comprised songs from throughout their career (despite a few disappointing omissions – their cover of Gotye’s Somebody I Used To Know and their recent Daft Punk medley especially).  Favourites from the ‘Sing Off’ like Let’s Get It On and Video Killed The Radio Star were performed alongside a medley of Beyoncé hits, Lorde’s Royals, original songs and Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive that was accompanied by Kevin on cello.  Speaking of which, the beat-boxer was allowed his own moment in the spotlight with his own “cello-boxing” routine that was immensely impressive.

That said, all five members of the group are incredibly talented.  Their upbeat, complex arrangements are full of personality and unique riffs and inflections to ensure that each song has been moulded into their own style.   This continued between songs, with plenty of friendly banter – Avi and Kevin in particular making a hilarious double act, particularly during the audience participation section.

Individually, their voices have their own distinct character: Scott’s gravelly runs, Mitch’s pure falsetto and Kirstie’s welcome femininity.  Kevin’s beatboxing is rich with interesting percussive effects, but Avi was clearly the audience favourite.  His bass voice is so shuddering and low it quite literally shakes the floor – even his speaking voice was enough to induce screams from the crowd.  He even showcased some Mongolian overtone singing – weird and wonderful in equal measure.

Together, though, their voices blend perfectly.  A real highlight was original track Run To You – a gorgeous, intimate ballad full of warm suspended harmonies that proved the group can do emotive singing just as well as upbeat pop.

The crowd may have been full of musos and choir geeks, but the Pentatonix are less a choir and more a pop group, their performance as thrilling as any band gig.  More than anyone else they’re making a capella singing cool – and that’s no mean feat.


Listen: 'PTX Vol II' is available now.