When I found out Straight No Chaser was coming to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, I reached out to a friend of mine who knows the a cappella world. She got into that scene while in college long before the Pitch Perfect movie series made vocal only performances mainstream.
She explained to me how that world largely revolves around collegiate groups, and that each university tends to have a bit of a reputation. For example, the Wisconsin’s Mad Hatters are known for an intelligent, yet a bit unhinged, approach to their covers. BYU’s Vocal Point works to maintain a clean and crisp classic—almost doo-wop—style. The University of Rochester Yellowjackets are more of the frat boys of the genre, infusing flirty comedy into their performances.
Due to the small fan base for this medium, there are only a few well-known and profitable a cappella groups; the most notable are Pentatonix, Rockapella, The Manhattan Transfer, and the Kings Singers.
Of those professional units, much of the college energy, youthful exuberance, and goofy fun fade away as the focus shifts to the music.
Straight No Chaser is known for breaking that reputation to some extent by infusing their shows with musical comedy and silliness. They originally started as a college group from Indiana University, but after their internet sensation rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas went viral, they got the band back together and now tour each holiday season.
This art form is really best experienced in person — hearing individuals harmonize without Autotune, and layer melodies sounds nice on a quality sound system, but the performance is as much of the evening as the music. Before NKOTB were spinning in sync, a cappella groups were wearing matching jackets and performing mild choreography.
The show began with a fake news montage of the group in various historical events and set the tone for slightly irreverent and definitely not politically correct humor, but it was all tactfully done and with very clear self awareness.
This performance had us tapping our toes and snickering at various musical motifs, puns, and lyrical twists. The two biggest highlights of the first half were a mashup of Thriller/Uptown Funk and a very haunting minor key harmony of Radiohead’s Creep.
During the intermission, the cast members reacted to mean tweets about the group, which was really funny. The second half of the performance consisted mostly of Christmas songs, both secular and religious. A personal favorite of ours was their nutcracker song.
The encores consisted of their 12 Days of Christmas mashup, and a no-mic gospel version of O Holy Night.
Ticket prices are very reasonable, depending on the venue, for two hours of positive vibes and excellent harmony. Yet, if they are not coming to a town near you, you can still hear this year’s concert; on December 16, they are live streaming from Indianapolis. Details are available on their website sncmusic.com.
Special thanks to NJPAC for another flawless evening. The staff and facilities were all on point. The theater seats were amazing. Well done to all.