No Jackets Required (NJR) welcomed UR to Drama House on Friday, Nov. 30, to meet their line-up of ensembles, which consisted of Acoustic Ensemble, Rock Band, Blues Band and Jazz Ensemble. While all the groups performed admirably, some definitely shone above the rest. Unfortunately, the overwhelming disorganization of the event was a true detriment to the evening — even for a casual event, it was so poorly planned that it was difficult to truly enjoy the performances.
There was a fair amount of dead air between ensembles, when one group would be taking down its set and the next would be setting up. This is understandable, but it might have been nice to have some music playing during this activity, so there wasn’t just an awkward silence. Additionally, the Jazz Ensemble drummer was apparently performing in another show that night and only made an appearance nearly two hours into the event.
The ensemble struggled along painfully while he was gone, asking random members of NJR in the audience (most of whom were self-admitted drum novices) if they could play a beat for them. They went through three, including, at one point, the trumpet player, freshman David Porter, before the actual drummer showed up (though the drummer for the Blues Band, junior Kyle Sanson, filled in fairly well). It was painful to listen to, to say the least, which is unfortunate, because when they had a drummer that was meant to play with them, the new ensemble was phenomenal.
The order of ensembles also seemed a little odd. Acoustic Ensemble began the show and was musically engaging, though the acoustics were a little off — the vocals were too quiet, particularly in the verses, and the guitar was too loud. They were a generally good performance ensemble, but certainly shouldn’t have opened the show as they were a bit too mellow for the job.
There was a similar issue with the Jazz Ensemble, which closed the show. Not only were they far too sedate to close, but it also made the drummer issue far more frustrating. It’s clear they chose to put this ensemble last due to the drumming conflict, but at that point the desire to go home was trumping patience, and with only one ensemble left it compounded the frustration.
On the other hand, the two most energetic and entertaining groups of the night, Rock Band and Blues Band, performed in the middle of the show. The former came before the latter, which was perhaps better since Rock Band tends to be more well-known, and the crowd seemed anxious for their appearance. Freshman singer and keyboard player Yang Yang had the best stage presence of the night, rocking out to Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” and then later to Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Under Foot.” Her voice (and attitude) was actually even better suited to Zeppelin than Mac — while she astonished on the choruses, the verses were a little too low to fit comfortably in her range. Either way, she was certainly a stand-out star of the night.
Sophomore Enrique Reyes also impressed with his vocals on The Black Keys’ “I Got Mine.” He had incredible energy and presence, but it would have added a great deal to his performance if his microphone had been just a little bit louder to match the roaring guitars and bass. Despite this, from the volume of the applause it certainly seemed to resonate with the crowd.
However, the real surprise of the evening was the Blues Band. They had more personality before they’d ever started as a group than the others had had through their entire sets, joking with each other and the crowd as they set up. They kicked it off with The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” which was extraordinary, with Sanson on drums (as a fill-in — the normal drummer for this ensemble couldn’t be there either) and vocals keeping it moving, while maintaining the bluesy origins of the song. Senior Dan LaTourette on washboard was also incredible — he was so into the performance, it was almost hard to reconcile with the fact that he was playing washboard, an instrument that looks silly no matter how important it is. The entire ensemble was so dedicated to their performance, wearing typical “Blues Brothers” shades and jiving along to the beat, that it added a lot of pizzazz to their already stellar music.
It’s unfortunate that the technical and planning issues brought the show so far down, because musically it was a great night. It’s unclear what NJR was trying to accomplish with this event — if it was for recruitment or just a general performance, some more detailed planning really should have been put into it, and if it was simply a jam-session type of night, it probably shouldn’t have been advertised. Either way, at least the music of NJR holds up time after time — even if their organizational skills don’t.
Howard is a member of the class of 2013.