DCW On-Line: Allentown Review 2

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Phantom Holds Off a Surging Crown and Talking Cadets

August 2, 2008 — Allentown, PA . . . What a fantastic two evenings of drum corps! This day two of the DCI Eastern Classic pitted a surging Carolina Crown, group that has bested The Cadets in a recent show and is now focusing their attention on the Phantom Regiment. It was not to be this evening, but it was only four tenths away. Santa Clara was welcomed into the 90s club this evening and other fights for placement also happened with the Colts over Spirit by a very narrow margin of two tenths.

But the real winners tonight were the fans in attendance as they were treated to some of the best that the drum and bugle idiom could provide. It was simple a fantastic two evenings that were truly magical.

Phantom Regiment took to the field in their “Spartacus- themed persona. At the beginning it was four slave color guard members pushing a large podium while Drum Major Will Pitts stood arrogantly on top with arms folded, looking imperialistic. Meanwhile, a large contingent of brass members pushed, dragged and beat the other slave guard members onto the field, forcing them to prepare the field properly while the rest of the brass contingent goose-stepped along the backfield. It was all so appropriate and set the tone of the show from the moment the corps is seen by the audience. You simply could not take your eyes off the procession.

It was a powerful program from the first note of ‘Ein Heldenlebe’n to the various selections from the epic movie “Spartacus”. The mayhem that follows was accompanied by a brass line that was simply PHENOMENAL. The ensemble sound produced such depth and resonance that it takes your breath away. Percussion was beyond hot as they scotched the field with a master class performance. Even in a support role to the brass lead, the syncopated accents and visual cues were dead-on and beautifully programmed.

Then there were the color guard “slaves”; the ensemble was terrific with a combination of powerful equipment handling coupled to their Oscar-nominated characterization. They played their subservient role to the hilt and, when they finally broke free, were truly a force to be reckoned with.

Is there a V-Chip for drum corps? Or maybe a rating that should accompany each corps like E for entertainment, S for showmanship and V for violence. This Phantom program would have received all three and probably a PG-13 rating as well. It is the most pseudo-bloody, pseudo-violent performance ever witnessed on a competition field. Deaths during the attack scene, assassins everywhere and the blood flowed.

The march off after Spartacus’ death where the drum major assassin finally realized the tragedy of his action and leads the rest of the corps in their "change of heart" is outstanding programming. The murder of the drum major on the stand is surrealistic in its execution. The ending scene where the slave guards run out cover Spartacus’ body with a white cloth adds to the overall storyline and brought the crowd to their feet. To end the program, shouts of “I AM SPARTACUS” are heard on the field, first by a few, then by the whole color guard and even from the stands themselves.

From the moment Carolina Crown entered the field, the buzz started through the stands. This corps has become the darling of the crowd, which has been building over the past couple of years, with the corps’ pervious outstanding productions. Tonight, they captured even more hearts and minds with their outstanding production titled “Finis”.

It is a show of endings that starts with the ever-popular Bernstein’s “Candide” and when the field musicians make that first hit, it is goose bumps that never truly dissipate. It was the first corps to actually pull people in the audience out of their seats. The brass has a glorious, dark, rich and powerful sound. This is best heard during the ballad, “Clair de Lune”, which continues to transcend the audience and has emerged as a stellar middle section of the show. The rest of Crown’s musical repertoire is like the who’s-who of great musical finishes that have graced the competition field at one point over the 36 years of DCI’s existence.

The show hits on all the elements — comedic during “Barber of Seville”, majestic with “Symphony No. 9” (also known as “Ode to Joy”), magical during ballads such as “Midummer Night’s Dream”, “Clair de Lune”, “One Hand, One Heart” and “Somewhere” that truly makes one transcend the performance on the field. It was a stupendous evening with Crown, even paing homage to different corps through imitations of such events like the Bottle Dance (Santa Clara) and to The Cavaliers for their famous color guard step-over move. This was not lost on this avid drum corps fans in attendance as the stands went wild. The corps is not showing any signs of slowing down their juggernaut race toward the DCI World Championship.

The Cadets – Allentown, PA
DCW On-Line Photo by Pat Chagnon

Being only one of two corps this season to use show narration throughout most of their 2008 program called “Pursuit of Happiness”, The Cadets have a powerful show that is centered around a talk show discussion with Sarah Jones who discusses her happiness through her life and her love and, at the end, celebrates the happiness of becoming a grandmother (at the conclusion of the show a nine-year-old and the youngest Cadets member ever).

The program is crazy difficult at times and offers up all that The Cadets have brought to their programs over the years. Brass is brilliant and they scored the highest in GE Visual and the best Color Guard score for the evening. The program is very patriotic right from the beginning, with the guard members in purple and sporting large gold flags while the corps performed American Elegy that truly stirs the heart. It is a dazzling production that garnered a righteous standing ovation from the excited fans this evening.

With big sound, big visuals and an even bigger performance, the Santa Clara Vanguard had the Allentown audience roaring their approval. The corps’ 2008 program is called "3HREE: Mind — Body – Soul”, with visuals and music that live up to the title. SCV hits the stands with high energy and a powerful brass line. “The Chairman Dances” by John Adams was performed with huge visuals that spanned the field and just as quickly resolved into smaller segments that represent the Mind, Body and Soul. The guards’ frenetic opener is pure energy unleashed.

Brass was on fire tonight and was the best performance of the season. Percussion was phenomenal and especially the tenors who, based on DCW staff writer Jeff Ream’s vernacular, “like stupid sick!” The crowd was ready for the big Vanguard push and the loud yell that accompanies it. It was an intense, emotional ride that was executed very well and had the audience on their feet in the big closer.

When the Blue Stars enter the field, they erect frontline banners with a group of bicyclists in an apparent race. So it came as no surprised that the show is called “Le Tour: Every Second Counts”.

Music by Claude Debussy and several other French composers made for a very interesting production with the color guard outfitted in colorful biking attire. The guard also used bike wheels and other props like the handle bar flags to cement the show concept. Brass had a good night and was, at times, brilliant, especially in their beautiful ballad based on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”.

Percussion had a fantastic night that was noted in the uplift of their score. They shined in the percussion feature and had the audience hooked. The color guard was very athletic and it was hard to keep up with all the action. The ending moment with the guard in two lines and the brass and percussion in a huge arrow that pointed to the winning guard member standing up on the winning platform, brought this show to a successful close.

It is funny that the corps are taking on different sports as a basis of a show design such as horse racing (Crown 2007), boxing (Bluecoats, 2008) and now Blue Stars with their show based around the famous Le Tour de France bicycle race. What’s next — a show based on competitive poker?

Crossmen was the first corps in the second half of the show this evening and, while we anticipated the start of the competition, the front ensemble had already placed their instruments on the front sidelines and began entertaining the crowd. It was very cool and the audience ate it up.

Even though the corps now calls Texas their home, Allentown sees them as their hometown corps. From the moment they enter the field, the crowd is already getting excited. Then when the corps is announced as they set up, the audience is on their feet, cheering. Crossmen, you are home once again.

Their show is called “Planet X” and is based on a exciting new approach to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” . It is a wonderful production. The guard is outfitted in a futuristic spacesuit style and their opening frenetic flag sets the stage for a outstanding performance. Brass is making great strides with a line that is maturing quickly. Percussion was exciting with a performance that never failed to entertain as their stylistic approach and accented punches. The corps has a very strong ensemble, with all sections contributing equally, which accounts for their nearly even spread of placements.

The Colts have an easily recognizable musical repertoire in their beautiful program called “Night and Day” that kicks off with a full-voiced rendition of that Cole Porter number. The rest of their music includes numbers from Leonard Bernstein, Miklos Rozsa and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

There is a bit of an “old school” feel to their total production and they deliver on all cylinders, musically and visually. The audience loved this corps and, based on their response, the performance seemed to soar even higher. Brass has a great ensemble sound, with minor individual issues holding them back for their long downtime in the visual department. Percussion was exciting and they got the audience to sit up and listen.

Colts – Dubuque, IA
DCW On-Line Photo by Ron Walloch

Color guard was talented and they perform with enthusiasm, but suffered a bit in their visual ensemble performance at times. They sit on a bubble where, under the right performance combinations, could see them squeak into finals.

With an odd program name called “Pe-if-4-ery”, Spirit took the field and was warmly welcomed by the heavily packed stands. The Alabama corps kicks off with “Equus”, which is very exciting, but is not immediately caught by the audience. This year’s musical and visual program is very artful and contains music from sources like the movie “Batman Begins” and “The Piano”, which offer some exciting musical elements, but Spirit was not able to get the whole program to gel, start to finish. It has many exciting musical moments and outstanding visual ideas, but it is not sustained. Kudos to the performers. They work very hard out on the field and the audience rewarded that with enthusiastic applause.

They came with some very heavy music from such movies as “Blood Diamonds”, “The Wind and The Lion” and the esoteric “Dralion” from Cirque du Solei. Pacific Crest offered up a show called “Primality: the Rituals of Passion”. The music is rich and full- sounding, but did not seem to energize the audience. The corps has opted for a darker uniform, all basically black, but without any real flash of color to make them stand out.

It appeared that the corps was trying to make a statement that they are serious, with deep-thinking musical parts and visual program. This works, but only for a very short time. It was hard to stay focused to the overall theme because the visual was at times hard to understand. This was reflected in the audience as well ,as they did not get the loud cheers that this venue can produce.

The brass can seriously play and they have serious volume. Percussion supports well, but features just did not elicit any excited moments. Color guard was talented, but many individual errors effected the ensemble visual.

Pioneer took the field and the 12 large “A” framed props certainly are noticeable. At the start of their 2008 production, called “Celtic Reflections”, several color guard members are sitting on top of of the “A” props performing with traditional Bodhram drums prior to the brass turning toward the stands with “Holst Suite in E-flat”. It was an intriguing opening and the Irish styling is very evident from the beginning.

The front ensemble carries this style throughout the production. They are very good. The ballad of “The Celtic Symphony” is beautifully written and it was well-received by the audience. And their closer of “Crown Imperial” is welcomed music as it has not been heard in a few years. Pioneer is a great organization and never fails to entertain the audience and to keep the great Irish music alive in our idom.

To entertain the crowd, the Bridgemen Alumni corps was special tonight, performing their special tricks and music they have made famous. For a real treat, the audience was given the choice of which encore number they wish performed. The choice was between “In the Stone” and “William Tell Overture” — tough choices. “In the Stone” won out and it was marvelous, then the corps played “William Tell Overture” anyway. The crowd ate it up and wanted more.

After the awards, the combined Phantom Regiment and Crown performed “America the Beautiful“ and then came Regiment’s encore. “Ave Maria” was just stunning tonight as well as the corps’ performance of “The Rhapsody/American in Paris” . It was simply terrific and “Elsa”s” was just regal.

The evening was enchanting. Perfect weather that came after a small rain storm. The crowd was warm and friendly, and knows its’ drum corps.

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

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Posted by on Wednesday, August 13th, 2008. Filed under DCW On-Line.