Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Straight No Chaser at the Ryman

On the evening of Nov. 10, adoring fans piled into the Ryman auditorium to indulge in a shot of Straight No Chaser and the ten-member a cappella group proved they really are top-shelf.

Formed at Indiana University back in 1996, Straight No Chaser features vocalists Ryan Ahlwhardt, Jerome Collins, Walter Chase, Seggie Isho, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling, Don Nottingham, David Roberts, Randy Stine and Tyler Trepp.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7:30, and shortly thereafter, with no opening act, SNC stepped onstage moving to their trademark choreography. The group with more than 20 million YouTube views of their videos and live performances demonstrated immediately what the buzz is all about.

Ten handsome men dressed to impress, all wearing matching shiny tuxedos and dancing in synchronization. But what really dazzled the audience was their unique melodic blending of four-part harmonies interlaced with falsettos and vibratos on their outstanding renditions of hit cover songs. They played off each other’s energy and the chemistry was undeniable. They just looked like they were having fun up there and the audience felt that.

The remarkable vocal range of the group truly captivated the audience for hours. There was not a single instrument on stage to mask an off-key note, but these guys did not need any instruments to disguise imperfections.

The first set of the evening included some favorites from the 1950s — The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” The Isley Brother’s “Shout,” and an Elvis Presley tribute remembering some of the King’s finest. The group then transitioned into some present-day favorites such as Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” and Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” mixed with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Before concluding, the celebrated vocal ensemble brought some of the funk — Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive.” Stirring the audience to laughter, Nottingham dedicated a song to a couple in the audience on their first date saying the song could be, “Awesome or awkward, but I really hope it’s both.” The song was none other than Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

After a brief intermission, it was onto the second set which bridged several generations of music, covering everything from Frankie Valli and the Beatles to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.

The highlight of the second set was when the group started singing the gospel standard  “I’ll Fly Away” and earning the first standing ovation of the night.

Straight No Chaser breathed new life into material by artists old and new. Every song was drenched in the group’s unique take on the song, but was also reminiscent enough of the original that two fascinating worlds collided. Each member had a solo turn during the show allowing the audience to experience each singer’s individual talent.

The encore brought everyone to their feet with a medley of Michael Jackson songs and a blend of Christmas favorites including their well-known version of “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Perhaps the most captivating part of the evening came on the second encore when Straight No Chaser came out with absolutely no microphone support and sang another classic from The Drifters, “Up on the Roof.”

Although the audience ranged from teens to seniors, no one left that night without hearing some of their favorites. From country to R&B, Simon and Garfunkel to Coldplay, young and old alike left singing the praises of Straight No Chaser. Never has there been such a variety of material so well executed in a single show.

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