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28 March 2006 @ 12:39 pm
ICCA Semifinals - part 1  
OK, so on March 18, the ICCA Semifinals occurred at Stanford.  As we've done for the past five years or so, Jen and I went for the weekend.  Not a bad weekend at all, but of course, the highlight was the competition.

Here's how it went down.

The first group we saw was from a high school that we unfortunately didn't write down.  The group was called Till Dawn.  Not bad for a high school group, but they very much sounded like a high school group.  After the competition was over, they helped distract the audience while the judges deliberated, and somehow they managed to convince the site to give them individual microphones for that.  Here's what they looked like at that point:

Then we got into the competition proper.  As usual, the order wasn't announced to the audience - it had been determined by a random draw earlier that day.  First up was UC Berkeley's Men's Octet.  I had high hopes for these guys - they're the only group to have won the ICCA Finals twice so far.  But at the same time, they've taken a few years off from the competition circuit, so nobody really knew what to expect.  They opened with Bohemian Rhapsody (very fun arrangement and choreo, but not as tight musically as the song deserves), went into Men in Tights (which seemed to have the arrangement and choreo stolen moment for moment by the movie), and ended with the medley from Moulin Rouge.  This spawned some controversy in our conversations later that weekend.  The Men's Octet is, of course, all men.  They made no apologies for this, and played the duets from the medley as if it were intended for homosexual relationships -- except they played it up as much as they could, going for the laughs.  Jen's mom and her guy both found this very offensive.  I thought it was OK, but not terribly effective for competition.  On the whole, the set was a bit weak, but not terrible.  About what you'd expect on the low end of this level of the competition.

Next up was BYU Noteworthy.  They did four songs, two of which we wrote down the titles for, and two will be lost in the sands of time.  (oops)  The two we wrote were Isn't She Lovely, and Never Gonna Get It.  They opened with another ethnic number (it worked for them last year, so why not?) which was very impressive, and showed a great deal of musical range - although there were moments of muddled sync.  After that, the level went down to OK.  Their sound was a little tighter than Men's Octet, but their arrangements and choreo were simple by comparison, to the point where it appeared that some of them were getting bored at times.  Naturally, I followed suit.

Third to compete was UC Berkeley Artists in Resonance (or AiR).  Another group that sounds pretty good, but needs to learn that if they don't look like they're enjoying themselves, the audience won't enjoy them either.  They opened with Hey Jude, which I found repetitive and a bit on the boring side - so it must have been fairly true to the original version.  The second number (Come Down?  Can't read our notes...) wasn't anything to write home about, but they ended on a high note with their medley (I Believe in Miracles / Leave Your Hat On / Hot Stuff / Gimme All Your Lovin').  Very fun interplay between the men and women in the group, and a lot of stuff going on.  They could have used some more clarity, though - I felt at times that things were a bit muddled both visually and audibly.  Very fun group, though.

Act I ended with USC SoCal VoCals.  These guys were clearly the top of the pack when it came to Act I, but were still so much less than I've seen them be in the past.  They did Alone, Cold Hearted, and a Styx medley.  Complex choreography throughout, although it felt a bit stilted to me.  At no time did it ever occur to me that I was watching a performance -- it always felt like I was watching singing with moves, but neither really flowed from the other.  Occasionally they did a Rock Concert Move, which worked in the Styx medley, but I never really felt like the moves flowed from the music.  At the level these guys are at, they should be working more organically than that.  Sound wise, they were very good - again, clearly the best we'd seen so far - but still sounded thin.  Sixteen men and women sounding like twelve.  Now, it's better than the others - nobody else prior to this had a sound bigger than ten people or so.  But still, I've heard these guys totally dominate whatever stage they took on before.  Recently, in fact - at SCAMfest in November, they blew everybody else away.  But if you look at each performance as a competition with yourselves, this VoCals performance was destroyed by that one.

And, 'cause I couldn't decide which VoCals picture to use, here's another.  (At least I narrowed it down to two - I had to delete about seven front runners!)

Time for intermission, and since I need to get back to school from my lunch break, I'll take one myself.  When we return from these commercials, someone will be crowned winner - and an upset will break some hearts.