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15 March 2003 @ 02:15 am
ICCA Western Semifinals  
So this past weekend, Jen and I travelled to Northern California to see the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) semifinals at Stanford. We did this last year as well, and had a great time. Through a database crash and some creative volunteering, Jen ended up a judge this time around. I didn't, but it's just as well - I ended up with a better show this way. :-)

Remember a while back I posted about some A Cappella Rock groups? That's the kind of stuff we're talking about here - all college level, except for the group they brought in to distract the audience while the judges were deliberating.

Six contestants plus one distraction. All around, a very good show.

This is a long'un, so my recommendation is that if you read nothing else, at least skip to the end and read the Hookslide section... :-)

First up on stage was Mt. San Antonio Fermata Nowhere. (Couldn't find a link, but for the moment that's just as well) These guys were good, but clearly not in the league of the rest of the competitors. They had a very tentative sound, and seemed to be more concerned by the microphones (which were clearly not the right height, and were never adjusted) than with giving the best performance they could. I got the impression that they had more in them than they gave that night, but there were definite problems. Some fun songs including "Ultimate Cheeseburger," a good visual plan on "Cry Me a River," but my barbershop perfectionism didn't allow me to enjoy their attempt at "Hello Mary Lou," which was a David Wright arrangement that my quartet's learning - and I recently saw a chorus of high school men blow away Fermata Nowhere with. They will develop into a group worth catching the show with some work, but aren't quite there yet.

The next group on stage clearly won the "most likely to get a gig from this competition" award. Moosebutter, associated with Brigham Young University, is a quartet of men with insanity running throughout the set. Definitely check out those sound clips (Star Wars in particular)...then go buy their CD ("see dee"). It's very much worth it. As far as their performance here went, I felt they were very strong - good visual plan, good sound, much hilarity. However, they were much more about getting the joke across than taking the audience on a journey of any emotion other than humor. There's certainly a place for that, but when competing against these other groups, they just didn't have a chance. I had placed them third when all was said and done, but the judges placed them fifth, with a special "Animal Vegetable Mineral" award for their tenor for his performance as a wide array of animals AND VEGETABLES in "Captain Organic Vegetable Man."

The final group on stage before intermission was the UC-Berkeley California Golden Overtones. This all-female group did well, but had more problems than not. Their vowel consistency needed a LOT of work, their visual plan didn't match their music (moves that didn't make much sense for the emotion on beats that didn't make much sense for the music, that kind of thing)... Their ensemble sound was very good (as demonstrated in their rendition of "In The Mood"), but when the soloists came out they suffered greatly. "Too Good To Be True" started off considerably lower than the soloist was comfortable with, for example, and almost all of them suffered from a lack of breath support, which led to being flat and not nearly powerful enough - as well as uncontrolled vibrato. I ended up buying their album because I enjoyed them enough, but one major issue that Jen pointed out to me later was that they simply don't live up to their name - they should attend some SAI rehearsals and learn how to actually produce overtones - again, starting with having the same vowel shape throughout the group. They were as surprised as anyone when one of their vocal percussionists (Kia) was announced as runner up for best vocal percussionist - especially considering she hadn't been recommended for consideration. She just did that good a job. I had this group placed fifth, the judges put them fourth, edging towards third.


First up after the break was University of Oregon's On The Rocks. I've covered my opinion of these guys in the prior post, but a quick summary is that last year they put forth a performance that I thought clearly put them in first place. They ended up taking second place, but due to a conflict in policy with the first place takers ended up going to the finals anyway, where they took third place. This year, I wasn't nearly as impressed with them, although they were CLEARLY the best that had performed so far. When I was writing notes for myself, I actually put "1st group of the night that was head-bob-worthy". Their first soloist (who got Best Soloist) I felt was very strong everywhere except during the key change. They had very nice dynamics in "Yellow", and a great visual plan. But they didn't show off Tyler Boeh quite as much this time around -- I felt that while I knew he was the best vocal percussionist in the competition, they just didn't choose to prove it. Which is fine, but I didn't feel that this set earned him the Best Vocal Percussionist award that he got. I felt that way about the group in general, actually - they did very well, but this wasn't a championship set for them. I had them placed CONSIDERABLY lower than the judges - probably biased because of how incredibly they did last year. My fourth place to the judges' first.

Next up was Brigham Young Vocal Point. (that link is as close as I could find. Scroll down for them) This is who won last year (but because the finals were on a Sunday weren't able to go, as performing or competing or something on the sabbath is against BU's policies). Last year, I felt they should have taken second place. This year, I thought they earned first. Easily the cleanest sound produced in the evening, as well as tight harmonies with great dynamics. I didn't have a lot to complain about. If I stretched, I'd say the solos lost tempo in "Straighten Up and Fly Right." And everyone loved their adaptation of the Washington University Pikers' hit "The 12.5 Days of Christmas", which they ended with "Africa." I bought their latest album hoping that would be on it, but was disappointed by it's absence (not for the rest of the album, though - it's fun). Guess I'll have to check their next one. And they had a hymn that was simply beautiful. This review coming from a Jew, keep in mind - the hymn nearly brought me to tears. Anyway, later discussion told that it was felt that Vocal Point chose a song from Category A, one from Category B, etc, and made absolutely no effort at transitions...but the biggest hit against them was a lack of "selling" the songs - they didn't have much in the way of emotional commitment. Which I can see, but I still thought they put forth a great performance. But I wasn't judging, so they ended up in second place.

Finally was USC's SoCal VoCals, always a favorite of mine. And it was quite a refreshing performance! Last time I saw them they felt very much like a group of soloists that had gathered to sing together, but there just wasn't much cohesion anymore. They got over that, and perform like one entity again. They had a very strong beginning with "Underground", with a great sound, groove, and look. The prerequisite Gabriel Mann song "Fire In Your Hand" was great (not surprisingly), and (also not surprisingly) garnished member Stacy Burcham her annual Best Arrangement award. Occasionally took the soloist longer than my tastes to find his notes, but that didn't stop him from earning runner up for best soloist. And their Footloose medley was just plain fun. I had them placed second; the judges put them third. Jen and I agree that they have the notes, words, sound and visual plan down pat...now all they need to do is own the stage and really sell the emotion of the songs.

OK, time for the judges to disappear, and for the distraction group to take the stage. As was the case last year, Hookslide gave a great performance...but the true highlight of it for me, and the reason Jen almost regretted that she had to go away once she heard about it, was when Jon Pilat, their incredible vocal percussionist/bass, had his solo. Apparently he was so blown away last year by Tyler Boeh's performance that this year he asked Ty to join him on stage. (I briefly talked to Ty after the show. He told me the invitation was something like this: "Hey, wanna come up on stage with me when I get my solo?" "DO I?!?!") The two engaged in a drum-off that is simply impossible to describe. I really wish I had a video of it; something tells me this is something that just isn't going to be repeatable. If anyone was there and got this on tape, please e-mail me privately - I'd love to get a copy from you...

And that's about it. A great evening. I've spent FAR too much time writing this, and really should go collapse in bed.

(Hey speedball, aren't you glad I didn't have any time to actually prepare my presentation to Court on this? :-) )
Current Music: moosebutter - SPAM
Kurt Onstadspeedball on March 16th, 2003 01:48 am (UTC)
Yes. Although, it would have been cool if you could get your voice to do that thing with the link.