Pentatonix at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 6, 2024 | Photo: Nataschia Hadley

The vocal prowess of Pentatonix is undeniable. From their victory on the Sing Off TV show in 2011, to their rise to one of the best known and most highly acclaimed a capella groups on the music scene today, their almost fairy tale of a success story reads like every choir kid’s fantasy come true.

Pentatonix at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 6, 2024 | Photo: Nataschia Hadley

The coolest thing about that is that the three-time GRAMMY Award-winning and Daytime EMMY Award-nominated vocal quintet — comprised today of Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola, and Matt Sallee — have stayed humble in the shadow of fame, and seem to genuinely realize how fortunate they’ve been to find success on a big stage in such an unpredictable musical genre.  

They started out strong, with a lively version of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,’ followed by Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” and my favorite number of the night, Radiohead’s “Creep.” Their medleys were also fun, both the “90s Dance Medley” and the even more impressive eight minute-long “Evolution of Taylor Swift” medley, which was apparently a live debut. Just to remember all of those lyrics and perform them at that pace was a feat of strength. Plus it was fun to go down memory lane with Taylor songs, not to mention the aforementioned choir kids in the audience gamely singing along.

Some other high points were the Omi cover of “Cheerleader,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” That being said, their super stripped down, vocals only performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl last week featuring five people with floor mics on a couple of platforms and simple lighting had very little visual variation (I don’t think stools really count) and could have used a bit more pizzazz. Without a band to ooh and ahh at, I couldn’t help wishing for some background videos or lighting pyrotechnics or some choreography or even just a video camera doing close-ups of the vocalists — something else to give this enjoyably pleasant music a bit more oomph.

An overly long, four-part harmony with the audience singing along to Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” in order to film an admittedly cool looking TikTok didn’t help either. As the sweet young choir girl in front of me yelled, “Give us some f*cking metronomes,” I was tempted to echo “and let’s get on with the show” — but I refrained. And we were soon rewarded with an impressive medley that included Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Harry Belafonte’s  “Day-O,” Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

That was a great lead-in for Pentatonix’s beautifully rendered performance of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” then the encore (which was done without mics, making an already stripped down show even more so) reprising Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and finally ending with a semi-traditional version of “Hallelujah,” which earned the group international success as a platinum-certified single in Canada and gold-certified in Germany and Switzerland.

Was it a good show, sure, but I would have liked for it to have been a bit more of a SHOW with a whole lot more showmanship. The show choir meets a cappella performance was an evening that would have probably knocked it out of the park in a more intimate space — but it just wasn’t big enough for the Bowl. Get these guys a producer, stat!

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