DCW On-Line: Pittsburgh PA Review

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Cavaliers On Top At Three Rivers Summer Music Games

July, 8 2010 — Pittsburgh, PA . . . It was totally a “Mad World” here this hot and humid evening and The Cavaliers are at the very center of the madness.  Scoring big over the competition, the Rosemont corps brought their highly-original production to the Pittsburgh audience and they went mad over the whole show, while Phantom and BAC are staying within statistical margins and that made for an unforgettable season thus far for fans and performers alike.

There were six fantastic performances this evening with Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment and Boston Crusaders staying within three points of each other as they continue to enhance and perfect their programs.  There was the Madison Scouts, who have been gaining and regaining fans across this country with their new look and delicious program that successfully marries the old with the new.  Meanwhile, an iconic Spirit and the black-clad Crossmen compete neck and neck, continuing to build and clean their programs while looking to make it into the finals at championships this season.

I do not think I could have said it better than Rich Burgher on the DCP forum where he described the Cavaliers’ “Mad World” show as a “post-apocalyptic, gun-happy, distorted pre-show with herky-jerky movement, rumbling explosions and freaky sound effects and sound bites.”

Based around the theme of the song Mad World by Roland Orazbal, the Cavaliers brought to Pittsburgh a performance the likes never seen by a drum corps audience.  The level of originality, inventiveness, wacky and fun of this program is something you have to experience as it is near impossible to describe adequately.

The levels reached to promote the madness of the program are found in all elements, from the obvious visuals of sheer chaos that ensues starting at the very beginning.  From selective sound effects that include excerpts from the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” “This is my Rifle” is first heard at the beginning of the corps warm-up and later repeated by the corps members on the field.  To the sound of a rifle bolt being thrown and a shot ringing out, this program has so much to watch, hear and experience, it takes multiple viewing to appreciate the total programming.

There are many juxtaposition moments, from the lilting quiet sound of the front ensemble to the erratic, abrasive, off-key sounds of the brass and percussion that overshadows.  Whimsicality is also evident through the show, with guard members visualizing the level of madness, the whole brass and color guard on rifles doing push-ups and later mimicking the movie “Stripes” as the brass reforms into two large company fronts.

A very interesting phenomenon occurs during the beautiful song titled Smile that was written by the late Charlie Chaplin; the guard puts on these full white face masks and performs ballet moves almost in a way of masking and bottling up their madness behind a mask of their own.  All the while the forces of madness descend upon them once more.  I think I need to see a psychiatrist after this viewing.

Brass was outstanding as they tackled a tough book with the multitude of frenetic musical changes and physical attributes needed to make this show so much fun.  Percussion is a show in and of itself, with a highly-expressive performance while flying around the field.  My hats off to the color guard who had to take on many levels of characters to amplify the theme.  This is one for the collection. 

What a magical performance brought in by Phantom Regiment that transported the audience in their excellent performance titled “into the Light,” a symphonic poem by Michael Kaman called The New Moon In The Old Moon’s Arms..

The Rockford corps is still the master of the most beautiful and demanding of soft passages.  They performed with such aplomb you are carried away on the lilting melodies and strong ensemble performance.  Just listening to this music alone is worth a price of admission. 

Percussion this evening was outstanding as they have coupled a very demanding book with a performance that took the evening on the judges’ sheets.  Color guard looked stunning with their field of flowing purple, but may have contributed to a less-than-excellent performance as they just barely edged out Madison in the caption. 

In the overall music caption, Phantom was able to tie Cavies for top honors.  Visually, this group has a very expressive program that opens with the corps at the bottom left of the field and ends quietly at the top right.  In between was highly demanding and at times near chaotic with their tight drill patterns.

Boston Crusaders had a fantastic evening performing their “Thy Kingdom Come” show with a very positive reaction from the audience for the whole program.  Brass was outstanding this evening, bringing in an expressive performance that was executed near-flawlessly.  Percussion was on the mark with an wonderful performance of their own and outstanding, physically-demanding parts.

The corps utilized a very large throne prop situated on the field.  Both color guard and brass made good use of the prop to carry forward the theme of wanting to be king and to include some new dimensioning of their show.

Boston Crusaders
Drum Corps World photo by Moe Knox

This corps certainly adds a lot of body articulation and accents throughout the program, increasing the performer’s overall demand.  The audience especially loved the side-hopping by nearly the whole corps.  They were exciting and the overall performance excellence has improved drastically from the start of the season.

The corps’ visual program is very intriguing as the designers do throw a curve at times and what you anticipate does not always appear, so you are forced to pay close attention.  The only small issue in the corps’ show was their closing number.  Jay Kennedy’s Quest for Glory seemed to take an enormously long time to develop and lacked finality in its conclusion, but it’s still early.

Highly confident musically, Boston is making great strides in improving their standings from last season’s position.

Madison got the best spontaneous reaction from the audience when they blasted the stands mere moments after the announcement of the corps.  It was fresh, unexpected and genuine.  The new uniforms for the corps look excellent and well-represent the corps’ past and future.  The guard is outfitted in grey shirts and pants, some with t-shirts.  When isolated from the corps, I feel they lose a bit of visual clarity.

Slaughter on Tenth Avenue was a powerful number in the day and it did not fail to resonate with the audience this evening either.  It was almost like bringing back to old-school drum corps in this modern drum corps world.  To say the least, the fans ate it up, with many standing ovations.

What I liked was the more use of brass soloists that brought the musical program down to a level where individuals can shine, with the rest as supporting cast.  I would have liked to hear more mash-up musically, where the old and the new could be presented practically side by side.

Percussion was a nice surprise this evening, very expressive and a lot of use of body accents coupled to audible cues.  They were definitely in the hunt with the top corps this evening.  Loved Rhapsody in Blue and that Gershwin number has seen its day, but Madison’s performance brought back many great memories.  It excited the fans, both old and new..

The color guard was very athletic and looked great in their gray pants with some wearing gray t-shirts while others were in gray tank tops.  They performed very well, hitting all the big effects with near effortlessness.

Looks to be a year that Madison Scouts may make it back to where they belong if they can continue making all the right changes; they certainly have this audience’s vote.

As Spirit entered the field, the excitement in the stands increased perceptibly.  The buzz around this corps has been growing from the start of the season with a new uniform, stronger brass and improving percussion.  They did not fail to entertain or disappoint their ever-increasing fan base.

Percussion kicked it royally at the very start with the fiery Keith Emerson opening to Piano Concerto No. 1 that set the pace for the whole program.  Brass picked up from the percussion with a lot of fire of their own.  Visually, the program is right on target with the use of 13 large, black material props that establishes the forging theme. 
Color guard is outfitted in an interesting mix of orange and yellow, accented with black trim and equipped with many large sledge hammers — I would hate to run into them in a dark alley when they are less than a happy bunch.

The corps is still sporting several holes in the brass section, so the visual excellence gets a bit marred at times.  The use of the mutes on the trumpets during Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in Bb Major was excellent and added a cool dimension to the music.

Brass has a great sound overall but I felt that the trumpets came out more in sync to the ensemble than the middle and lower brass this evening.  Overall, the brass book is reasonable, but not overly demanding.  The players handle it well, but the total ensemble comes with a mixed performance. Percussion is very lively and also has a mixed return on investment at times during the production.

If you judged them on crowd reaction, Spirit had some moments where there was a genuine reaction, but the majority of it came at the conclusion.

Coming on first this evening, the Crossmen were a nice opening act for this fun Thursday of drum corps.  The X-Men, outfitted in their basic black uniforms with white trim and black sequined sash, looked good as they took the field.  The color guard has a very cool look this season with their modern uniform of different shades of blue over silver and circle trim on different parts, with flags that also have the circle pattern that carried the show theme nicely.  Everything compliments the music while providing a nice contrast to the darker corps uniforms.

The show is titled “First Circle” and it brings the corps back to the fan-favorite Pat Metheny music that has worked so well for the corps over its history.  This evening it was a well-received production by the audience and fans really wanted to get into the whole production, but performance and lack of visual programming left most of the audience sitting on their hands.  It is a good show, but it is obvious there is a raw mix of talent in all sections.

Brass has many excellent moments with the visual and musical demands a bit offset.  Percussion was fun to experience, however, execution was a bit muddy.  Color guard worked hard and they are showing much improvement, more work is needed to get them locking in their performance.  Now that we are in July, it is important for Crossmen to continue to work hard to get flaws out, close open ranks and lock in the overall program.

My hat is tipped to Kate Tkach and the management and volunteers at the Baldwin High School for being some of the nicest and most helpful people on this very warm day of competition.  It was difficult for many to find parking because the school recently reseeded the practice field that the show coordinators were planning to use for parking.  This meant the audience would have to go to a satellite parking area and be bused to the show. 

Thankfully they worked diligently and with great patience to make sure everyone had a fantastic evening.  It turned out to be a perfect night.

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

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Posted by on Sunday, August 1st, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.