DCW On-Line: Allentown Review 1

| |

DCI East Reveals Bloomington Battleground

Allentown, PA — August 1, 2008 . . . The first evening of August proved to be warm, pleasant and chock full of excitement for drum corps fans at the first night of DCI East. This night, and the one that followed, proved to set the stage for next week’s battle for the DCI World Championship title in Bloomington, IN, in many exciting ways. The top contenders, in my view, are Cavaliers, Carolina Crown, Phantom Regiment and Blue Devils. Contention for the next tier of placements is likely to include Santa Clara Vanguard, Cadets and Bluecoats. Plus there are a host of exciting shows to fill the remaining finals spots, most notably Boston Crusaders, Glassmen, Blue Stars and Crossmen.

But on the first night we were treated to Open Class and World Class competition, the former showing the perennially-strong Jersey Surf taking top spot, with Beatrix (Netherlands) the runner-up – and underscoring that DCI is, indeed, international. Too bad there were not more competitors in Open Class. The state of affairs around the incredibly shrinking activity is disconcerting, to say the least. So BIG kudos to Jersey Surf and their “So Far” show, which clearly reveals the fruits of a long, exciting journey.

Surf was confident as it showed the pride of New Jersey — once drum corps’ center of the universe — and a hint of what may come to World Class in not too many seasons from now. Music by Peter Gabriel, Will Jennings, Brian Yale, Peter Wentz, et. al. revealed the amazing journey, from the explosive opening to melodic ballads to an irreverent rock-out. Nice job!
Beatrix not only put on a great show, but the drum line played the drum majors onto the field for the awards and the corps rounded out the show with the Blue Devils and the Dutch corps joining together to play “America, the Beautiful”. Nice touch from our brothers and sisters across the pond.

The lower tier of World Class included Mandarins, The Academy and Troopers. The Casper corps is showing some sign of coming back to life with its very playful “Iron Horse Express” show, although I must admit that the train motif as a bit overdone (if that’s possible for such an integral part of the theme). The “chug-chug” and “toot-toot” were clever the first time, but became somewhat trite thereafter. And because of the tentativeness of this young group, cute and playful sometimes became somewhat weak attempts at humor. But no matter, there were moments of vintage Troopers as we were reminded of the West, the starburst and the mid- to later-‘60s powerhouse the corps once was. Hang in there, Troopers. You are clearly remaking yourself.

The Academy had one of the most musical pit sections in recent memory. Overall, there was a “dark” element throughout the show that was clearly appreciated by the fans around me. There was a very interesting playfulness between brass and guard in the end zone. And, for the most part, the brass arrangements were complex and executed with great professionalism by this up-and-coming corps.

The Academy – Tempe, AZ
DCW On-Line Photo by Kent Sallee

Similarly, Mandarins showed some very intricate brass work, reminiscent of Star of Indiana’s “Split Complementaries”, and other tempo-challenging, multi-rhythmic and chromatic pieces. “The River” show theme came through loud and clear, with touches of Cajun and images of flowing water. Very nice job!

The middle tier included Madison Scouts, Blue Knights,Boston Crusaders and Glassmen. This was a very tight pack in the end, but according to the fan response, it is fair to say Boston Crusaders were over the top in most hearts and minds. The Crusaders’ show is an amazing mix of contemporary DCI and retro drum corps, in all good ways. I am not merely talking about the “Conquest” snippet, but the amazingly powerful “Also Sprach Zarathustra” grand opening (. . . how many corps played “2001” through the years?), followed dynamically by “Kingfisher Catch Fire” and a delightfully entertaining “August’s Rhapsody” from the movie “August Rush.”
The energy continued to grow as Boston exploded into a “Matrix Reloaded” genre, replete with crossover drills (remember “Hava Nagila?”) and, finally, a “Conquest” reprieve. Okay, you know that I love Boston as the corps is a survivor from my competing days and this was one of the corps for which I had great respect. I’m so glad for its survival and for this outstanding performance in Allentown! And it was delightful to see the daughter of two dear friends — both former members of the late-‘60s / early-‘70s Crusaders — in the ranks this evening! Tradition . . .

Glassmen demonstrated a huge, huge talent, but I felt that it was squandered somewhat by the obscure. Don’t get me wrong, the corps did justice to the “Kar-ne-vel” theme by creating a very circus-like, novel and cute metaphor for life in its opener. As the show progressed, there were balloons, big rubber balls and a plethora of playful acts and props. But the theme too often gave way to what I have come to refer to as “compulsory outbursts” — demonstrations of talent through musically complex passages that are discrete, disconnected from the show and clearly designed to play to the judges. What about fans?

Perhaps there should simply be a set of compulsories as competitive qualifiers, played to judges only, before entertaining the fans on the field. And I found the Blue Knights’ “Knight Reign” to be much more of the same. A fan near me said to himself, “. . . a bunch of obscure stuff, I think.” In particular, there was a very long pit-only piece that might have given the rest of the marching corps an opportunity to shine while not playing. But they did not. It was very difficult to comprehend the lack of movement during this section. I just didn’t get it. And I noticed two judges looking at their watches . . . and they weren’t timers, either. But I take nothing away from the members of either corps. Excellent performances, efforts and huge hearts! Keep up the good work, but have a talk with your show designers!

I would be remiss if I did not comment on the Madison Scouts. Taking nothing away from visual designers like Michael Cesario, I personally think of uniforms as a means to identify and distinguish drum corps from one another. But I have to admit that uniforms like The Cavaliers’ are useful to the total show in terms of providing contrast to the green, green grass through the white hats, white shoulder boards and white arm cuffs. That said, what were the designers of the Madison Scouts’ uniforms thinking? The corps proper simply disappears into the grass as they are all sort of olive green and dark. Further, the color guard is decked in black. You look out onto the field and feel relieved to at least see the sparking horns.

All that darkness and blending into the field do wonders for contrast with respect to the silks, which appear as white with black spirals of sorts in the early part of the show. In general, the silks provide a colorful, bright relief to the otherwise drab, hidden look. And I must also comment that the Scouts have amazing talent. When they took the field, everyone knew that we were into the next tier, BIG time! But the show, like the uniforms . . . quite lackluster. Sorry, guys, but in my opinion, the most tragic squanderings of member talent this season are the Madison Scouts and The Cadets. In the future, let’s see better and more responsible applications of all of this talent and passion!

The upper tier included the amazing Bluecoats, Blue Devils and Cavaliers. Were the Blue Devils undefeated this season until this night? Indeed, and the Cavaliers clearly deserved the win. The “Samurai” show is breathtaking and absolute “Green Machine”. I am a detailed note-taker during the DCI shows that I cover. But I have nary a doodle on the page for the Cavies, because the show was SOOO entertaining that I couldn’t take my eyes off them!

Back in the day, you knew which corps would win when the judges dug the show, while their clipboards dangled at their sides. This night I didn’t see much talking into those recorders, just mouths agape. Did I say the Cavaliers were amazing? Everything from traditional Samurai costumes (guard and pit), to traditional Japanese musical scores with traditional Japanese Shakuhachi (flutes) and Taiko (drums / drummers) — PLUS an energy and athleticism that was totally astounding.

Now we have precision drills from the Cavaliers that include running, diving and tumbling! What a scene from above. Brass and percussion were spot-on precise, with marching that included texture, subtleties and humanly impossible scenarios. THAT is what defines the “Green Machine”. I’m exhausted just thinking about them.

Bluecoats – Canton, OH
DCW On-Line Photo by Harry Heidelmark

Bluecoats’ show, “The Knockout”, was the first of the evening to include voice amplification. It was done tastefully and complemented the show, without stumbling over the music or trying to “explain” a story (like you-know-who). The highlight of this show for me was the brass-only excerpt from Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”. WOW! I dug it, the crowd dug it . . . and, unfortunately, it was too short! Finishing the piece with the brass players singing didn’t exactly ruin the piece, but it left clear disappointment as it transitioned from such an astounding brass ensemble and arrangement. Pity. Bluecoats’ rifle work was the best, the openness of the drill was visually appealing and the split brass ensembles showed amazing depth of talent. This is a Bluecoats that bears watching as we move toward Bloomington.

What I loved most about the Blue Devils’ “Constantly Risking Absurdity” was the constant risk around absurdity. What a theme, what a totally impressive utilization of talent and what creativity. Yes, we were all blown away with off-the-wall music from the absurd “Sweeney Todd” and obscure pieces such as “Serenada Schizophrana”. And somewhere in the midst of all this is a fantasia on “I Will Wait for You”. Totally risking absurdity!

I have heard it said that this is the decade of the Blue Devils. Indeed, in quality, imagination and drum corps innovation this is perhaps true. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the corps will take a title this year. Blue Devils have work cut out in the competitive landscape that includes The Cavaliers, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment.

August 1 and 2 were terrific nights for any drum corps fan. Covering the Friday show for DCW and then hanging out with buds from my marching days with the Blessed Sacrament junior corps on Saturday night made it ever-so-memorable and exciting. But I must say, I was so impressed with Carolina Crown on Saturday that here I am this very moment (Sunday, 4:50PM) in Westminster, MD, where I motorcycled directly from Allentown, PA, reporting on Friday’s show from a Starbucks (where there is a wireless connection), so that I can see my new favorite corps just one more time before Bloomington. I just LOVE the fact that there are newcomers among the top tier. It has to be that way.

So best wishes to all in the top tier. I’ll be munching popcorn next week and hoping that the best is crowned the best.

You may discuss this review on the DCP Forums. We’d love to hear your feedback.

Publisher’s Note:
This article is presented by Drum Corps World in cooperation with Drum Corps Planet. The material is exclusive to Drum Corps Planet under the "DCW On-Line" masthead as a regular feature. To see more quality reports like this one, subscribe today — www.drumcorpsworld.com or call toll free 1-800-554-9630 between 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM Central time, seven days a week.

The Madison, WI-based Drum Corps World has been published continously since October 1971 — 37 years of service! The tabloid newspaper is mailed monthly and contains articles on competitions and concerts, worldwide event calendars, scores, photography, features, regular columns and advertising from the companies that support the publication and the activity. Our staff of 75 writers and 12 photographers have extensive experience and many have been with us for 10 years or more. In addition, you will also find historic material in the store including: 136 historic CDs originally recorded between 1950 and 1980, vintage DVD content, videotapes, record albums, history books, back issues of DCW and feature articles from past issues posted on the front page twice each week.

Visit www.drumcorpsworld.com. For more information, call toll free 1-800-554-9630.

Posted by on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008. Filed under DCW On-Line.