On Saturday, April 14, students who were able to attend the UR YellowJackets show in Strong Auditorium, which featured guest groups Howard University’s Afro Blue and Committed, arguably two of the best groups to ever compete on NBC’s hit series “The Sing Off,” were able to see three distinctly different styles taken from the different eras of a cappella.
After a brief opening number from the YellowJackets — a creatively-arranged mashup of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” and Jessie J’s “Domino” — Afro Blue took the stage.
From the second bass Reggie Bowens opened with a beautiful, minute-long scat solo to the moment they left the stage, they asserted while retaining their classy jazz, a cappella style, reminiscent of an actual 1950s jazz band. Behind Bowens and their smooth backing vocals, Afro Blue were able to wow the audience with classic oldies.
Though they opened to strong applause with the hit “American Boy” by Estelle, the number that most impressed was a cover of the late Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The number opened with a beautiful four-part harmony, accelerating into a fast dance number and ending in a rousing standing ovation for the performers.
The YellowJackets returned to the stage following Afro Blue’s final number for a short set of four unique and enjoyable songs.
By far the greatest highlight, though, was their cover of “Someone Like You” by Adele, in which soloist junior Michael Pittman seemed to add every ounce of emotional strength to his already powerful voice to wow the audiences into a stunned silence.
The end of the set was marked with a fan favorite: a medley of Disney tunes which brought out the absolute best of the group. The medley caused audience members to experience a whirlwind of positive emotions over the course of five minutes, from nostalgia for childhood to laughter over their performance to awe for soloists senior Jamal Moore, freshman Josh Huang and junior Galen Dole.
After intermission, it was Committed’s turn to take over the Strong Auditorium stage. Committed, a sextet from Hunstville, AL, performed a very diverse set, utilizing a Motown-style sound.
They proved they were entertainers as well as singers, amusing the audience with planned skits and interesting dialogue between group members. The balance, though, always seemed a bit off, with a little too much coming from the vocal percussionist and not enough from the backing vocalists.
The most impressive aspect of their performance was their cohesion; every note from every person was perfectly in place and they were able to slide between chords as if they were one voice rather than six. This was clearly evident in their cover of Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings,” with the song being arguably the strongest performance of the entire night from any of the performing groups.
The second set was surprisingly short. After a surprisingly disjointed and awkward performance of Destiny Child’s “Say My Name,” talented vocal percussionist junior Jordan Fontheim got his five minutes of fame with his own beatboxing solo, astounding audiences with his skill and creativity. The graduating members — Moore and senior Matt Francis — were given dedications by the group for their four years of service to the YellowJackets.
They ended their concert with a three-song set with an a cappella group from School 58: World of Inquiry School, a Rochester elementary and middle school which the YellowJackets have been working with for over a year. With the help of the YellowJackets and its former director senior Aaron Sperber, School 58 has created an a cappella group called The Buzz, featuring its students, who look to the YellowJackets as inspiration as they continue to achieve and learn through music.
The concert, as well as the Sunday performance for the Rochester community, was dedicated to 11-year-old School 58 student Sammy Parker, who is fighting an aggressive form of cancer. His performance, as well as his struggle with the cancer, inspired the YellowJackets and — after Sammy’s story was shared with the audience — the audience members themselves.
The general consensus on the Yellowjackets performance was positive overall, with many audience members noting their professionalism. The blend of their voices is still fantastic, even after experience a tremendous blow of losing seven members in the last year. The most unfortunate part about this spring’s Yellowjacket show was how little time they actually spent on stage. Despite it being billed as a YellowJackets show, they only performed eight songs and were on stage for no longer than forty minutes, even with the three songs they performed with The Buzz.
The YellowJackets did have a strong performance reminiscent of their pre- “Sing-Off” days, but more and more it looks like the future YellowJackets will fronted by a couple of stars — Pittman, Fontheim and sophomore Matt Carlin easily come to mind — with a fantastic supporting cast, rather than a well-rounded group as they once were. Regardless, they proved those who saw them as a group on the decline wrong; the Jackets are and will remain the professional, seamless and entertaining performers they always have been.
Pascutoi is a member of the class of 2015.