When you begin and end your set with songs made famous by Michael Jackson, it says something about a band. No, it doesn't say you're a tribute band or you're just dying to upate The Girl Is Mine. In the case of Straight No Chaser, who played at Horseshoe Casino's Showroom Friday night, it simply says they can do wonders with anyone's music, even songs as already engrained in our consciousness as The Jackson 5's ABC and I Want You Back and Jackson's solo classic Billie Jean. And on top of that, frequent soloist Jerome Collins has Jackson's moves down to a science.
Early in the show, Collins told the crowd to take as many pictures as they'd like, adding that their success was due to YouTube, and since interactive media has been so good to them, they like to share the love. That friendly atmosphere remained throughout the show and even into the lobby after the encore when the band stayed and signed autographs and posed for pictures. Their lack of pretension and obvious appreciation for their success was evident throughout the evening. Band members had a natural repertoire with one another - as old friends usually do.
The set list was all over the musical map, which is part of the appeal and success of their first non-Christmas release With a Twist. Many of the songs performed were taken from that CD, including The Red Hot Chili Pepper's Under the Bridge, Oasis' Wonderwall, a swinging take on Tainted Love, and the vocal mash up of Jason Mraz's I'm Yours and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Other songs were not on the album. Band co-founder Randy Stine introduced Miss You by saying, "This is our twist on The Rolling Stones." Needless to say, it was much different from the original. The medley of The Bee Gees' Staylin' Alive and Stevie Wonder's Superstition was particularly effective, and as they do with so many medleys, they seemlessly intertwine the harmonies and melodies.
Although it was a strong set list from top to bottom, highlights include the before-mentioned Billie Jean, which was woven into a medley with the Bell Biv Devoe song Poison. (No, that is not a misprint). A new cartoon medley was as solid as their sit-com medley they've made famous over the last couple of years. Even their attempt at country music won over the crowd. With bass Charlie Mechling singing lead, Zac Brown's Country Fried retained it's twang but never quite sounded like this.
And perhaps the finest moment was their cover of Coldplay's Fix You. Ironically, their version surpassed the original, but it also brought out the quality of the songwriting. Had you closed your eyes, you could have sworn there were layers of synthesizers playing behind them, providing a haunting hum. Instead, it was just the band. Although they played with no instrumental accompaniment, it was hard to believe at times. In addition to being outstanding singers, these guys can make some of the best beat box and percussion sounds anywhere. Thus, they are accurately called a "band."
The biggest applause might have come after they sung a Lady GaGa medley, which seemed to take the crowd by surprise. Keep in mind, this was a couple songs after performing The Beatles' Come Together. While it may seem like the material is all over the map, it somehow comes out sounding cohesive. Not once were any of these songs a misstep. Their timing was impeccable, and how they can remember all of their vocal parts is, much like the TV series Small Wonder lasting 96 episodes, is one of the wonders of our time.
When they came out for their encore, a guy in the crowd yelled out "12 Days Of Christmas." Without hesitating, Collins pointed at him, and the band broke into the holiday song that got the whole phenomenom started. The show, which clocked in around an hour and twenty minutes, was well paced. Early own, Mechling joked about how people from Indiana tell jokes about people from Kentucky and vice versa, but he said for one night at least "we're all friends in music." The appreciation Straight No Chaser has for all genres is impressive; they can take nearly any song and make it their own.
You may think that a group of ten great vocalists would somehow merit an American Idol comparison, but this band is about as far removed from the inorganic packaging of American Idol as any band could be. While they are now able to afford a nice light show and dapper suits, the band remains who they were when they were in Bloomington singing for fun. Long before the head of Atlantic Records saw their video on YouTube and the whole improbable trip to stardom began, they were Straight No Chaser, an immensly talented group of ten guys who can sing and have fun. Celebrity hasn't changd that or them. They need no image coach or calculated marketing gimics. They have fun singing, but they also take it very seriously. There is no other way their vocal gymnastics could be so well conceived or choreographed if they didn't.
If the notion of an a cappella show seems a bit mundane, Straight No Chaser will quickly get that notion out of your head. But soon you will be finding their arrangements of songs stuck in your head. With their new album and extensive tour, Straight No Chaser proves that they aren't just for Christmas music anymore.
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