DCW On-Line: DeKalb IL Review

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Blue Devils B puts on impressive display at DeKalb Open Class show

July 31, 2010 — DeKalb, IL . . . Not to be deterred by a day-long threat of rain, some of the finest DCI Open Class drum corps gathered in DeKalb for the ?Festival of Champions? — the first drum corps show in this college town in over five years.  It was the site of the Drum Corps Midwest Championships for nearly all of that organization?s 25-year history until the regional association was desolved by DCI in 2005.
Tonight?s show brought to a close four days of community-wide activities, with a number of the drum corps providing the music and entertainment for the community?s salute to its military veterans.  It marked the season?s first gathering of Open Class corps from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as the start of the home stretch to DCI Finals week.
Traditionally this is the time the talent meter climbs up a couple of notches and the evening of high-caliber performances did not disappoint fans at NIU?s Huskie Stadium.

Blue Devils B came into the 2010 season with a couple of surprises.  
The first was their size.  Stretching from goal line to goal line, it?s hard to believe this is an Open Class corps.
The next BDB surprise was their sound.
Launching into the opener from Amin Bhatia?s Interstellar Suite, they hit the rhythmic impacts with laser-cutting precision, leaving fans breathless and cheering for more.  And the other works of ?Space? continued to overflow the stadium with their new, defined sound.
This is not the cute BDB traditionally associated with cool jazz arrangements and artistic visual presentations.
?Yes, this is a new direction for us,? Director Rick Odello noted, ?but when you try something and it works, you just go for it.?
And go for it they do.
Consequently, its this big, bold sound that continues to give other Open Class corps a run for their money.  Not only is the music cutting edge for the Concord troupe, but also the 100-plus members on the field are allowed new creative endeavors with their aggressive visual program.
Sweeping all captions, they are going to be a tough one to beat this season.
But Odello and his group are taking nothing for granted.  ?We have to go out each night and prove to ourselves we can be better than the last performance.  That?s our focus this year.?
They close out with Aha! by Imogen Heap, which can only be defined as controlled chaos.  It?s upbeat, it?s driving and it left fans with the euphoria of a wonderful experience.
The oldest of the three Texas corps performing tonight.  Revolution already has a wealth of miles already under its belt this season.
?The West Coast tour was a good experience for us,? but Corps Director Johnny Rodriguez points out with a grin, ?We also had a lot of fun and the crowds loved what we are about.?
This year?s production, ?Fade to Black? is a darker, haunting direction for the corps and is packed with an unusual variety of material that sometimes shocks the senses.
?[This is] a little bit a different concept for us, with a blend of a little bit of rock guitars,? Rodriguez said.  ?It?s a little new, a little old, coming together for an exciting show.?
Launching with an assault by the snare line, Revolution ignites the field with Steve Vai?s uplifting Liberty before transitioning its way to the dark side.  The first inkling of change comes with the requiem feel they put to Uprising and the color guard?s gradual change to black outfits.  And the evolution continues throughout until the end of Mahler?s Symphony #5 when the entire corps is covered in black.
Although this is a different concept for the Texas corps, what hasn?t changed is the hard, pounding arrangements and the aggressive visual design that?s been a long Revolution tradition.
Marking their twentieth anniversary, the Raiders are celebrating with ?Platinum Celebration.?  ?The intent is a show that?s upbeat and positive . . . a celebration, if you will,? Corps Director Tommy Maiello said.
The production is not only uplifting throughout, but also introduces a much bolder sound than the Raiders historically turn out.  This is the result of the strength of the mid-range brass players and it works well for the corps — a refreshing change.  It?s most noticeable throughout the delivery of Samuel Hazo?s Exultant.
The New Jersey corps has always enjoyed a strong color guard, but this year?s visual ensemble is proving a step above.  Outfitted in white glimmering dresses, their flag and sword work is some of the best in Open Class.
In the ballad, solo flag Amber Kay delivers a grace and artistic flow that quickly makes you forget about the rest of the corps.
New Beginnings is the perfect closer for the Raiders as it announces to fans of great things yet to come.  ?It?s about new directions for us,? Maiello noted, ?and we?re pretty excited.?
Legends fro Kalamazoo continues to quietly work its way up the ranks and make a lasting impression on fans wherever they perform.  The Michigan corps delivered a compelling performance of their Roman-themed production, ?Ruins.?
The complex opener, Frank Ticheli?s Vesuvius, works well for the corps and provides an instant look at the talent of both the performance and the design staff of the organization.
Emerson, Lake and Palmer?s Eruption from ?Tarkus? follows.  This early work of ELP lends itself well to the drum corps venue and Legends set a high performance standard with their arrangement.  Of exceptional note tonight was the spellbinding keyboard introduction into the number.
Despite finding themselves a half of a point behind Legends, the Colt Cadets enjoyed a seven-point gain since their last performance — the largest climb of the night.  The evolving moods and emotions of The Sorcerer?s Apprentice make it a difficult composition to effectively recreate on the field.  The Dubuque organization, however, was up to the task, delivering a magical performance of their production called ?Sorcerer?s Revenge,? as well as putting them right on the heels of Revolution in musical general effect.
The highlight of tonight?s performance came from the battery, which had clean execution and were a joy to watch as they flew through difficult passages while executing a drill to match.
Forté is defined as loud and strong, and the first-year Texas corps lived well up to its name.  ?Stargazing? is a well-thought-out production that pulls together the music about worlds and realities well beyond our own and intermixes teasers from Holst?s ?The Planets? throughout.
In addition to the Dallas corps? quality musicianship, there is a cleverness to the musical arrangements not often explored in drum corps anymore.  In Caelum Fero is a nice example of using the composer?s intent, but adding a rhythmic, upbeat approach that gives it a quality the audience can wrap its arms around.
The highlight of the night was Overture to a New World, which featured some of the best weapons work by the color guard.  The number also gave plenty of room for the horn line to stretch out and show off their power.
Soloists Nathan Banegas on trumpet and Gage Tellez on mellophone delivered performances that carried well over the corps? strong ensemble push.  And trumpet Patrick Hand provided a short backfield teaser of I?ll Fly Away to close out the number.
Genesis is the other first-year corps tonight and has the distinction of DCI?s southern-most drum corps (they?re from the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville).  From the opening notes of Quien Sabe, the Texas corps had the crowd dancing in the aisles and there was no let-up throughout the rest of their production, ?One Night in the Valley.?
The young organization came well-armed with a sizzling brass line that put on a first-class performance of the Stan Kenton arrangements.  They not only excelled with their ensemble performances, but also featured a wonderful lineup of soloists.
Trumpet player Josh Castillo?s delivery in Autumn Leaves set the sentimental mood behind the light ballad and gave a solid performance.  The silky sounds of Frank Solis? baritone solo in Malagueña brought a roar from the stands that was still being talked about long after Genesis left the field.
?Which way do we go??  The question stirred emotions on the field and laughter in the stands as the Velvet Knights set the stage to launch the audience intoh this year?s ?Magical Mystery Tour.?
Mischievous humor still abounds from VK.  Whether it?s in the music, a momentary expression on their faces or a slight-of-hand with their drill, the Pasadena group will always bring an abundance of laughter from the crowd.
The California corps may be a bit smaller than past years, but they didn?t let that get in the way of delivering a bold, in-your-face performance.  True to form, they kept the energy flowing through an abbreviated version of one of their golden oldies, Magical Mystery Tour, touching on a couple of Alan Silvestri compositions from ?Romancing the Stone? and wound up on the French shores with Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld.
Musically, the SoCal troupe is on top of their game — especially with a wonderfully crisp snare line that can tease the best.  But they are still working to clean up some holes in the lines and tighten some of the visual ensemble.
Despite it all, this corps knows how to entertain!  Besides, who else will use the Can-Can for a perfect company front?
The Velvet Knights also received special recognition at the end of the show by the festival hosts and the DeKalb community for its exceptional performance in the Lincoln Highway Parade conducted during the week.
Racine Scouts
Drum Corps World photo by Ron Walloch
This year?s production, ?Fascinating Rhythms? just proves the music of George Gershwin and the Racine Scouts go hand-in-hand.
Most notable about the corps as they took the field is the size.  According to Corps Manager Andrea Birbilis, the 2010 edition is their largest corps in years.
They opened up with an often-pounding, often-passionate arrangement of Summertime that demonstrated the high caliber of new talent and power this Wisconsin corps has drawn from.  Attired in bright yellow dresses and grey pants, the color guard was well-versed in flags and dance.  Their soft shoe routine with canes to introduce I Got Rhythm was definitely a crowd-pleaser.
The Scouts are the only performers tonight that competed at the last DeKalb show five years ago.
Continuing Quebec?s rich drum corps traditions, Les Stentors? production, ?A New Day,? bubbles over with audience appeal.  
Their arrangements take a different approach from the hard-charging drum corps style and present a more artistic, full-body sound with a European feel to the music.  This new feel kept an upbeat, sort of a ?Sunday in the park? feel throughout the production.
Their closer, La Revolution, provided the opportunity to showcase different segments of the brass and percussion line while maintaining a Euro-techno rhythmic flow to the number, which also included audience participation.
Just meeting the 30-member minimum, the Blue Saints took to the field with a good balance of brass, percussion and color guard — and with one of their best talent levels in a number of years.  Taking a bold approach this season their production, ?The Struggle Within,? is based on the elaborate and often dark music of Danny Elfman.
Although at times struggling to keep up with the complexity of the arrangements, the Sudbury, ONT, group never failed to keep the audience entertained.
The exceptional keyboard performance made the highlight of tonight?s presentation in Ice Dance from ?Edward Scissorhands.?  Their delicate attacks and emotional flow was a moment Director Mark Ripley and his team can be proud of.
A special thanks goes to Michael Embrey for his vision and tireless efforts to bring back the ?Festival of Champions? to DeKalb.

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Posted by on Saturday, August 14th, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.