By Dave Berkowitz of Traffic
"It’s just f’in’ a cappella," said the guy pressed up against my back as we stormed the doors of Lecture Hall One, dollars waving, holding the backs of our friends and scouting for seats.
That’s all it was, a cappella. At the annual Dollar Show, all six groups performed at the sixth of the cost of the average solo concert. Also playing simultaneously in LH2 and LH14, this year’s show boasted the largest seating capacity ever. The groups rotated among the three rooms, and in each room, they were greeted by a standing-room-only crowd.
Leading off (in LH1) were the Harpur Harpeggios, the all-female group. Affectionately known as the Pegs, they’re the softer, sweeter side of our a cappella circuit. Their music is best listened to by candle-light with your significant other, a recently-eaten Italian (or vegan) meal not yet cleared off the makeshift table in your cramped apartment. Recently, they’ve been adding some hip-hop to their set, thus increasing the beat and upping the tempo of their shows.
They flowed through "Future Love Paradise" into their traditional "Because the Night." Then, in "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You," the trio of Deena Altman, Katie Lansford, and Melissa Beery started a dance number, finally adding some movement to the previously stationary Pegs. While acoustically soothing, a cappella in general can be visually stagnant. There’s a dozen people standing in a semicircle moving their mouths and snapping a bit. After the Pegs’ most energetic and loudest number, "Sexual Healing," graced by the freestylin’ Margot Rosen, they broke into their dance number, "Dancing Queen." With this intricately choreographed piece, they illustrated how a cappella can be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears (although most would tell you if there’s a couple hotties in the group, it’s a feast for the eyes no matter what they do).
The second group performing was the Vibrations, the all-oldies gang who now calls themselves "all-retro" to keep up with the times. Their set was solid, and generally upbeat. It can often be difficult for an a cappella group to pull off singing a slow song, especially since some of these concerts get so tediously long. However, a set including "Hitchin’ a Ride," "California Dreamin’," and "That Thing You Do," provided entertaining music, even if some soloists were inaudible or slightly off-key.
The Vibrations have had, to put it mildly, a troubled past, and they tried escaping it. Let’s just say auditions this semester will decide whether they sink or swim. Only eight members performed Saturday, and there will be additional openings in the group. Some of their newer arrangements, particularly by treasurer Brad Spiegel, are more vibrant, and Spiegel’s energy is relentless. However, some older songs (two words: "Mercedes Benz") must be dropped, and new blood is essential. Good luck, Mr. Spiegel. It’s an uphill battle, but the spring show in 1998 proved you can go places. Back up to that point, and move forward from there. I have faith.
Performing their best set ever, topping last spring’s extraordinary concert, the Binghamtonics were the strongest that I’ve seen them. It helped that 16 members were singing (including several alumni), but that wasn’t all the difference. Sometimes the initial performance of the year can bring anxiety to the show, but the Tonics channeled it all into enthusiasm. They’re reputation is that they’re the cheery, bubbly group, exemplified by the eternally effervescent musical director, Samantha Schwartz. This is a group who can do a flawless Moxy Fruvous, although they have their sentimental side which can come out during songs like the Indigo Girls’ "Galileo."
Above everything else, better than Peng Suvilaisunthorn "Karma Chameleon" and the "Galileo" duet of Beth Stokinger and Jessie Sackett, better than Mike Baver's backup vocals in "The Flame," was their pacing. Paul Simon, at his Jones Beach concert this summer, was probably the only artist I’ve seen with a more brilliantly-orchestrated set. If you can create the wave you want to ride on, you’re bound to be the best surfer out there. Saturday, the Tonics created the wave of humor and sentimentality, of explosive volume and tenderness. I’m looking forward to seeing how they build on that this semester. Bravo, Tonics.
Next came Kaskeset, under musical director David Ross. Hearing their rendition of "Judah Maccabee," sung so loudly and with such "ruakh" (Hebrew for spirit), I realized why I keep coming back for more of their music. Soloists Ross and Mike Boxer helped ignite what would be one of their strongest sets ever. This group of 10 rivaled (and perhaps bested) the oomph of their 16 predecessors, adding even more pertinence to their choice of "Judah" to lead off the set.
The Maccabees were a small band of Jews who overthrew the mighty and oppressive Syrian Greek army. Kaskeset is a small band of Jews who proved that in two-years time (since Ross joined in ‘97), a group who sings mostly in a language understood by few, can have such a glowing presence on the a cappella scene. Also noteworthy Saturday were the group’s dynamics. This is an interpersonal group, feeding off each other to gain volume, harmonize tighter, and put more into each song. From the volume of "Shalom Rav" ("A Great Peace") to the orchestrations in "Oz Vehadar" ("Strength and Glory"), the strength of their unity emerges in every song.
The Co-Ed, All-80's Rhythm Method was the fifth to perform in LH1. Dressed to kill, Emilie Schwartz's led off with charged and quite possibly perfect solo in "Kyrie." The notes "impressive soloist" in my scribblings could hardly summarize the intensity and range of Ms. Schwartz; I kept the notes to a minimum so I could appreciate the song.
Following it with David Levy climbing the octaves in "Take On Me" was a wise choice. The Method can be counted on for its crafty arrangements, and it’s always a challenge to parse their multi-layered background vocals. Unfortunately, in their third song, "Right Here, Right Now" soloist Lisa Lawless was hardly audible so all that was heard was the backup. Tradition followed, with musical director Greg Levine belting out RM’s "The SUNY-B Song." This perennial favorite has enough inside-jokes relating to the school to keep the seniors laughing for the fourth year in a row. RM closed with "Give It To Me Baby" after the softer "True Colors." In the finale, Felicia Hudson entertained with same antics that she’s delighted Dickenson Community Players fans with in several shows. While she might have built her reputation in musicals, the hip dance moves to accompany her radiant vocalizations closed the set with the explosive charge RM tends to muster for its finales.
Saving the best for last, the Binghamton Crosbys lived up to their legend. This is a group that can sound good while drunk beyond belief at a Pub show; sober, they’re unparalleled. Imagine 14 whose voices can melt butter. Throw in dance moves, scat improvisations, the most diverse of song repertoires, and hilarious arrangements to get a better performance than anything you’ll see on the Mainstage. I feel like all I need to add is the line of Cabaret’s Emcee, "And every one of them: a virgin!" to make these guys sound any better. If these guys start sounding any better, I might have to quit school and become a Crosbys groupie. Saresh Santhanam aced The Who’s "Pinball Wizard," only to be followed by sensation Danny Amy snaring us into "Somethin’ About You." The set could have ended there and I’d have been happy, but then I’d have been denied hearing Adam "Skip" Gross’s "Big Bad Bill." Their skit about auditions was rehashed; I thought they would have found some way to top the "I like small boys line," but they went with the classic. Reviewer Rule #1: Only mention the highlights, not the whole thing. With these guys, every number’s a highlight. Jesse Afriyie rocking "Takin’ it to the Streets" preceded Chris Sheppard's crisp "Die Without You." There’s no better way to end a night than capping it with "The Krosby Funk," featuring the duo of Sheppard and Roopak Ahuja, with Al Orbinati’s percussion.
Now, if only you could find quality like that at a dollar store...