This past Thursday evening, the fam and I saw the a cappella men’s group Straight No Chaser in concert in Lexington. We have a few of their CDs, mostly Christmas stuff, but this was the first time we’ve had a chance to see them live.
I had gotten four tickets back in May (one was for the girl Ben was dating at the time—things do change in six months); our friend Becky joined us as we braved an uncharacteristic mid-November snow on the way to the show. The venue was the Opera House, a somewhat small but sweet venue for seeing shows and concerts (we’ve been there around a half-a-dozen times over the last three years, including “Weird Al” back in March). This time we were third row, mezzanine, a little right of center as you face the stage. I’d take those seats again anytime.
SNC got their start at Indiana University in Bloomington in the 90s. As folks graduated, new members took their place. An upload of one of their collegiate performances to YouTube in 2008 (more on that Friday) led to the original cast getting an audition (and subsequently a contract) with Atlantic Records. There has been some turnover in membership in the decade since, but replacements have come from later generations of the on-campus group. The current incarnation has nine performers; they used to have ten. Album titles have built on the group’s name, including With a Twist, Under the Influence, Holiday Spirits, and most recently, One Shot (hence the title of this post). The guys are fairly spread out when they’re not touring, stretching from PA to TX. One of them lives in Cincinnati, and his parents were in the audience, up in the mezzanine with us.
The show lasted close very nearly two hours, including a 15-20 minute intermission. Even though not every song was exactly my style, these thirty- and forty-somethings were consistently entertaining. Various members took turns at the mic between numbers; their attempts at humor mostly hit the mark. Being good Hoosiers, they gleefully took a couple of shots at UK. A reference to their bus driving by a scenic campus on the way to the venue turned into a shoutout to my alma mater (Becky is also a Transy grad), and they also made sure to mention the men’s hoops team’s recent debacle against Duke.
SNC almost exclusively does covers. The set list included several cuts from One Shot, including the medley “Motownphilly/This Is How We Do It,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Homeward Bound,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and “Working for the Weekend.” The Percy Sledge piece includes a key change before the final go-round with the chorus that they absolutely nailed. However, I thought the Loverboy contained perhaps the weakest moment of the show, with the lead not being quite strong enough to pull off singing the title phrase as high as he went (it sounded much better when a second voice joined him). The first half ended with a highlight: a Disney medley with altered lyrics that reflect what’s really going on in those movies.
They came out of intermission with a few Christmas tunes (I allowed myself to enjoy them even if it is still before Thanksgiving), including a tale of a football-loving husband corralled into attending a performance of The Nutcracker while the big game is on. Then, maybe the piece of the evening, a mashup of “Thriller” and “Uptown Funk,” complete with MJ-inspired choreography. Definitely recommended.
Dancing isn’t their strength, but it’s more than smooth enough. The harmonies are uniformly great and their dedicated human “beat box” provided fun percussion effects all night long. After the show, Martha had a more-than-fair criticism, observing that they never have a bass take the lead, even for a verse (this leads me to reflect that perhaps it’d wouldn’t be bad if they had a little more volume overall in the lower register).
There were a couple of encores, and they ended the evening with an “old school” (that is, sans microphones) version of “You’ve Got a Friend.” You get the feeling that the fellows are feeling some nostalgia and maybe a little age with this latest recording (One Shot includes about a dozen brief spoken interludes reflecting on their journey across the years–they also showed clips from home movies on the backscreen during “Homeward Bound”). I figure the closing number was an attempt to share/recapture the feel of undergraduate days, even if just for a few moments. In my own way, I can relate.
One fun thing they do at each show is take a picture of the audience and post it on their FB page. If you know where to look, you can find us. I’m wearing a maroon sweater, three rows up and left of center on the middle level. I’m clapping, but it looks like I’m holding clenched hands up like a champ. Martha is a little more discernible, in a grey sweater; Ben and Becky are to my right and her left, respectively. It’s a pretty cool way to connect with the crowd.
I’d be happy to see them again.