The beauty of traditional a cappella bands is something so rarely seen in the modern music landscape, so to have the world renowned, Grammy Award winning quintet, Pentatonix grace Aussie shores this week was an absolute treat. Pentatonix: The World Tour gives fans of the band a chance to hear their favourite pop style arrangements and vocal harmonies live – and they did not disappoint.
Warming up the crowd, a gorgeous young woman made her way to a standalone mic. The breakout artist Bella Taylor Smith, winner of the 10th season of the Voice Australia, is a pop-folk singer-songwriter whose vocals can only be described as angelic. Bella is so beautifully humble in her performance style – directly asking permission of the crowd for her to ‘sing (you) a few songs’. Typically, pop singers will hold back their highest, most impressive notes for the peak of a song, but when Bella came out with her first track belting out a range not far from the vocals of Beyoncé – we could tell we were in for a treat.
Accompanied by her husband Josh on acoustic guitar, Bella took the audience on a journey, from her time on The Voice, to her strong faith, and recent marriage. Bella is a familiar character, whose stories are told so passionately on stage particularly through her natural movement and comfortable stage presence.
Performing her winner’s single from The Voice, Higher, Bella stood self-harmonising under a single spotlight. Although simplistic in its design, this set could be mistaken for a fully-produced album – with the acoustic guitar feeling as well rounded as an entire band. A sure highlight of the performance was an exquisite cover of Ave Maria by Beyoncé; the singer’s blind audition track which changed her life in an instant. Spine tingling and pure magic, this song truly showcases all that Bella has to offer – hitting whistle tones that felt as though they stopped time for a second.
Bella’s set boasted so many highlights for a thirty-minute act. Covering songs by the great Elton John and Cyndi Lauper, as well as introducing her new single A Long Time Coming, the audience was left clapping and cheering in unison, the perfect way to lead into welcoming the world’s most famous a cappella band.
The stage went dark as the word ‘Music’ flickered on and off. Going into this show, my only real exposure to a cappella extended to the 2012 film Pitch Perfect, and for anyone else in the same boat as me, we were about to have our minds blown by the pure magic of Pentatonix.
Reimagining and redefining a cappella… it was impossible not to feel full body shivers listening to the angelic hums and melodic choir as the group burst onto the stage with their original pop single Sing. The band consisting of members Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoving, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola and Matt Sallee has a way of being so individually unique and diverse, whilst also perfectly complimenting each other both visually and vocally.
It was impossible to look away from the stage, with the two-hour set being so high energy, brightly coloured, and almost childlike in the best way. The beautifully designed, clean geometric lines of the stage complimenting the bold colours of the costuming, then paired with tight choreography gives the band an early 2000’s feel. The glossy, Vegas-style showmanship is such a unique way of breathing new life into already established pop hits – steering Pentatonix away from simply being a cover band.
Na Na Na is another of the group’s hits, which had the audience becoming a part of the band so seamlessly, just as if the songs had been written for the stage. Showcasing the full range of tight harmonies and crystal-clear beats, the instrumentation of their voices could easily be mistaken for a five-piece band.
A recurring item in the show was the connection of light with movement. Having such high-production value was hypnotic for the crowd, whose eyes were glued to the stage. The same could be said for what was arguably the highlight of the show – the group’s cover of The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. There are no words to describe how beautiful this song is, which was only taken to a new high by the deeply layered vocals. The lyrics could be felt by all who were present; the arena so silent you could hear a pin drop.
The balanced mix between covers and originals was a great way of keeping the show fresh. The band’s original song Love Me When I Don’t was one of these moments where we were able to hear music so refreshing – filled with gorgeous uplifting lyrics about love and friendship, ‘you always know how to love me when I don’t’. This part of the night also made the stadium into a choir of its own, with different sections of the seating bank being directed to sing a particular note. After this, I’m sure anyone who hasn’t heard the band’s original music will be desperate to hear their albums from start to end.
A very special moment of the night was when the band decided to film a video for their TikTok, rehearsing the crowd’s harmonies and phone light choreography to Beyoncé’s Ave Maria, which saw Bella Taylor Smith return to the stage. The fourth wall is truly non-existent at a Pentatonix concert – with everyone present being just as integral to the show as the core band members.
Taking a short break from the a capella, the group’s beatboxer Kevin graced the crowd with a solo act, showcasing his unbelievable ‘Celloboxing’. Rearranging classical pieces of music including Beethoven's fifth and Bach’s Cello Suite no.1 in G major, the music was stunning and unlike anything I’d heard before – which the crowd obviously agreed with as the short set was met with a standing ovation.
When you’d think the best had past, Pentatonix was the gift that kept on giving. Changing into more mellow, monochrome costumes, the cello stayed put as the band moved into an a capella cover of Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Matched with angelic harmonies and sweeping golden spotlights, this was an absolute masterpiece. On a similar note, the band’s cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen silenced the venue. This kind of music is something that would be expected at the gates of heaven, but we were lucky enough to witness on a Sunday night in Melbourne.
The final seven minutes of the show were filled as any seven-minute finale should be – with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. One final reminder of the pure talent of the band, and their ability to imitate any instrument at all. The music of Pentatonix is so sublime, it transcends age, race and religion – pulling in mixed crowds from all over the world. The last twelve years has been so unbelievably successful, but I would be willing to place a bet that this is just the beginning.