Last night, In a twist of events, the concert began when the curtain fell at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.
The crowd literally leapt to its feet as a massive white sheet dropped to reveal a capella supergroup Pentatonix, who opened the show with a vibrant light show and powerful performance of original song “Sing” that transitioned seamlessly into “Finesse.”
PTX Summer Tour 2018 feels more akin to giant arena-filling concerts from pop stars like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé than a college a capella group; ever since the five-member group won Season 3 of The Sing-Off in 2011, they've put out six albums, toured the world, and won three Grammys. And while their dancing wasn’t quite on the same level as Pitch Perfect, they’re actually singing live, so high kicks and splits while also hitting a high C wouldn't really work.
Nevertheless, the night was overflowing with highlights. The set list was a healthy mix of original songs, covers, mash-ups, and medleys, almost half of which from their newest album, PTX Presents: Top Pop, Vol. I, which was released in April. Almost the entire crowd waved their cell phone lights in time as lead Scott Hoying sang Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” off the record. From my seat, it looked like waves of stars. From the stage, it must have looked like magic.
Their mash-up of “Despacito” and “Shape of You” might have been my favorite song of the night. The two songs are surprisingly similar, both in beat and theme: As one member sings out “Drinking fast and then we talk slow,” another chimes in with “Despacito,” or slowly in Spanish. By mashing the two together, Pentatonix have turned these two way-overplayed songs into novelties once more.
Later, the crowd was transfixed as a single spotlight shined down on Kevin Olusola while he “celloboxed,” a musical style he developed where he beat boxes while playing the string instrument. To be fair, fans went crazy whenever Olusola was featured, but it was near pandemonium when he and bass Matt Sallee beat-boxed classic hip-hop songs such as Usher’s “Yeah!” The crowd launched into an outright standing ovation after Olusola finished his celloboxed rendition of “Julie-O."
This tour is actually the first for Sallee, who replaced Avi Kaplan last fall. While the newcomer held his own throughout the show, he was the group’s weakest link during “Imagine.” The song was just too high for Sallee’s deep voice—it was much better suited for Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, with his iconic falsetto. Later, though, Sallee redeemed himself during “Hallelujah,” the group’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic that’s garnered more than 329 million views on YouTube. As Sallee belted out his solo, there was a thunderclap of cheering from the crowd.
Pentatonix ended with “Sorry Not Sorry,” their cover of Demi Lovato on their newest album. Although it was high energy and well-arranged, it still felt a little lackluster compared to earlier songs in the show, like their mash-up of original songs “Cracked” and "Natural Disaster.” Ideally, they would’ve rearranged the set list and ended with their new “Evolution of Rihanna,” a medley of Rihanna’s top hits across her career. When they sang it earlier in the evening, it was obvious how into it the group was, especially Grassi, who could barely suppress his joy as he stared fiercely into the crowd. I’m not saying they were good enough to knock Rihanna’s bejeweled Met Gala miter off her head—obviously no one can do that—but they got pretty close.
Overall, Pentatonix’s performance felt nearly flawless. Even if there were mistakes, it wouldn’t have mattered to this audience. It was the true definition of a family show—there were elderly couples on a Sunday date night, kids so small their buckets of popcorn were twice their size, and every age in between. The crowd was eager to be pleased and was pleased easily. They screamed throughout the night with welcoming delight, regardless of who was on stage.
When opener Calum Scott, who competed on Britain’s Got Talent in 2015, cried as he sang “No Matter What,” a moving chronicle of his coming out experience, the audience cried with him. Later when Echosmith performed their hit “Cool Kids,” you could barely hear lead Sydney Sierota over the singing of the crowd. And when Pentatonix took their final bow after their “Bohemian Rhapsody” encore, the seats shook as the crowd roared.