A musical illusion with Pentatonix at PA’s Allentown Fair

The group performed for just over an hour to 10,000 fair attendees

It is almost as if there are instruments onstage when Pentatonix arrives. But there are not. It is simply an illusion. All of the beats, bass, and vocals are coming from the five millennials with microphones. More than their talent, the group has come to be defined by their love for their fans and genuine stage presence. This graciousness and extreme talent was on full display Saturday night (September 2nd) at the Great Allentown Fair in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The five members-consisting of Scott Hoying, Kevin Olusola, Kirstin Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, and Avi Kaplan-took the outdoor Grandstand stage shortly after 8 pm. They began the show with “Cracked” and ‘Na Na Na” before stopping to welcome the crowd. It wasn’t until before the fourth song, however, that the group took a lengthier break from the music to talk with the crowd. Each member had the chance to step forward-in a blackout-and receive some solo love from the crowd while introducing numbers.

The show opened with a fake-out: The group seemed to appear behind the five light boxes that were the signature opening effect of their 2015 tour. However, after letting the crowd wonder if they were behind the screen or not, the group simply walked on to the raised platform, pairing themselves in front of their digitally silhouetted counterparts. That was as complex as the effects got that night. An impressive yet minimalist light show accompanied most of the songs, never detracting from the groups pure talent.

It should be noted, the group performed their entire 18-song set in steady rain that had the crowd of over 10,000 thoroughly soaked well before the show began. As Pentatonix powered through Michael Jackson and Justin Bieber medleys, as well as originals including “Can’t Sleep Love” and “Misbehavin’”, the crowd could have cared less about the weather. They were there for the music. The only instruments the group used throughout the night were a stomping pad, and Kevin Olusola’s upright beatbox bass solo.

Folk-acoustic group Us the Duo (husband and wife Michael and Carissa Alvarado) opened the show with their mix of covers and original works. The duo is believed to be the first group signed to a record label after success on the now-defunct social media platform Vine. While it is tough to open a show in the rain as people are pouring into their seats, the duo still has a lot to learn about entertaining ‘IRL” and not from behind a computer screen.

That is not to say that Us the Duo do not have musical talent. They certainly do, and it was on display when they joined Pentatonix onstage for “Jolene”, the Dolly Parton hit the group recorded with the queen of country herself. It won Pentatonix their third Grammy.

Pentantonix have done a very rare thing. They have transcended their reality show origins to become something more. The youth and diversity of their makeup appeals to the millennial generation, while covers of classics like “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” welcome grandparents into the fold. They are introducing the younger generations to older music through the freshness of their a cappella arrangements. Conversely, by stripping away all the overproduction in today’s pop music, they are revealing to everyone that music is ageless. By doing so, their performances and recordings unites generations that often have trouble seeing eye-to-eye. It was on display in Allentown, as grandparents joined grandkids in singing along, adding to the instrument-less chorus.

Pentatonix closed their main set with their first Grammy-winning arrangement, entitled “Daft Punk”. Upon returning to the stage, they killed their microphones, singing around a large lightbulb for “Light in the Hallway”. Their pure vocals managed to create a hush over the crowd and cut through the pulsing sound of rain. They closed the show with “Sing,” and confetti cannons exploded with the signature 5-color mixture of the group’s logo.

If there is one thing lacking in the Pentatonix on-stage repertoire, it is original music. The group has released an album of original materials, but only a handful of that music was present at the concert. While they went viral on YouTube for using their vocal talents to spin well-known songs, it can sometimes feel as though they don’t trust themselves enough to release new original music. This perception is due to the fact that they have only released one full album of original songs in a catalogue of 10 discs.

Pentatonix are extremely talented entertainers and vocalists, and a bevy of new music would launch them into a whole new phase of their career. The group is bracing for a transition as member Avi Kaplan departs at the end of this year. New music could suit them well as they must now literally regroup. Or, leaning on old material could be a smart idea as they figure out which direction to take. Either way, it will be interesting to watch. But for now, their music-originals, arrangements, and medleys alike-will continue to delight audiences across the generations.

Author: Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.

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