Friday 25 April 2014

Pentatonix @ O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

It seems like only yesterday that Pentatonix were performing their first ever UK gig at the O2 Islington (it was actually back in November – you can read the review here).  But some of us just can’t seem to get enough.

There are literally thousands of (official and fan-made) videos of the American a capella group on YouTube.  It’s all too easy to while away the hours watching Scott, Mitch, Kirstie, Kevin and Avi belting out pop hits online, let alone listening to their two EPs (plus their Christmas album!).  Yet nothing compares to actually seeing the group live.

That’s because, as much as this is a group of stellar musicians performing within a niche genre, they’re ever encroaching on popstar status.  This is a group who put on a real show and make a capella singing cool.  Perhaps disappointingly, the structure of the show has changed little since the last tour – the group still sing songs that traverse their career from champions of US show The Sing-Off to present day; Kevin is still given his individual moment as a beat-boxing cellist (always incredibly impressive); a girl is again plucked from the audience and sang to; and Avi’s natural speaking voice is still impossibly at sub-bass pitch (never a disappointment).  Fans may have known what was coming, but any opportunity to see the group live simply cannot be passed up.

And that fanbase is ever-increasing.  The audience began queuing hours before the gig began, resulting in the group’s biggest UK audience to date – “y’all have been insane”, noted Kevin towards the end.  That said, it’s an audience split between music/choir geeks and pop fans – one minute the crowd are cheering hysterically, the next they’re hushing each other to listen better.  If anything, this just proves the group’s broad appeal.

Unlike other a capella groups, Pentatonix don’t attempt to imitate instruments with their voices but focus on pure singing with added vocal effects.  Their song choice, too, eschews the obvious – by choosing offbeat songs they’re better able to make each song their own.  The songs are predominantly modern pop, giving the group a contemporary edge.  The setlist did have some omissions (their cover of Gotye’s Somebody I Used To Know was again missing), but their Daft Punk medley provided a new spectacular opening to the show and fan favourites like Katy Perry’s ET, their BeyoncĂ© medley and Lorde’s Royals proved especially popular, even if their originals didn’t always hit the mark.  With such a massive back catalogue, there are simply too many hits to choose from, though their next EP can’t come soon enough.

Most of all it’s their sheer talent that impresses, both individually and collectively.  Each of the singers were on top form (especially Mitch’s falsetto outbursts) and whilst Avi might be the clear fan favourite known for his deep bass tones and overtone singing, his upper register is stunning during the more lyrical moments.  In fact, that goes for them all.  The most arresting moments came when the uptempo pop beats and dancing stopped – namely a cover of A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera’s Say Something (vastly improving on the original) and their own song Run To You.  Both brought a tear to the eye, proving that above all the fancy riffs and vocal tricks, it’s pure emotion that Pentatonix do best.


Watch: Pentatonix are currently touring Europe, info on their website.