DCW On-Line: San Antonio TX Review

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DCI features outdoor venue for another entertaining show in Texas

July 25, 2010 — Converse, TX . . . While the last few years have seen San Antonio as the unofficial mid-point of the season where corps decide on what changes to implement for the final stretch, change was already afoot for most corps here tonight, which includes surprising programmatic and placement changes.
It seems that it was only a few years ago that drum corps fans were lamenting the fact there were no active drum corps in a marching band-rich state like Texas, but Genesis has now become the third entry into DCI this year from the Lone Star state, representing the Rio Grande Valley area.  In its premier season, this groupis obviously having a lot of fun establishing its identity with the Latin jazz program, ?One Night in the Valley.?  This includes upbeat and accessible arrangements of Kenton greats like Cuban Fire Suite, Autumn Leaves and Malagueña.  

There is plenty of melody to shake a stick at in this show as the corps performed emotionally for another home state crowd.  Genesis will no doubt be competitive this year, but more importantly, they are having a solid year of establishment as another area of Texas is served in the drum corps activity. 
Revolution took the field to a warm hometown reception tonight and a ?Fade To Black? production that is gradually gaining clarity, largely thanks to a surprisingly tight percussion section and a very busy drill design that keeps the corps constantly moving. The color guard is taking on the seasonal trend of beginning the show in all-white, making them pop against the grey and black of the corps-proper?s uniform, but true to the show?s name they gradually transition to all-black.  
Do not let the show name fool you though.  This is not as dark of a musical show as the title would suggest.  Music from rockers Steve Vai and Muse give the front end of the show a brighter feel, though it gradually transitions to the darker symphonic music of Eric Whitacre, John Mackey and Mahler.  If Revo can pull out all the emotional stops with this production, tighten some visual ends with the color guard, and drill and musical ends in the horn line, then this will be a solid competitive show for Open Class finals.
Spirit has a show that has made significant gains with regard to design and execution this year, but they are facing significant challenges from other corps in their strata, all fighting for finals spots.  This has held them back on competitive placement, but the show carries forward nonetheless and gains emotional ground as well.  There is an abstract ?back story? to this show that pulls one in to what the corps is trying to accomplish by looking back on its history without directly quoting it, yet looking forward as well. 
In order to overcome corps like the Troopers, Crossmen, Academy and Colts, Spirit is going to need to field a brilliantly sharp music ensemble and a streamlined visual program, but they have the tools and talent to do so. 
While this may still be counted as a major DCI event in 2010, is it also technically a home show for the third Texan entry tonight in the Crossmen, a journeyman?s corps if there ever was one.  The organization is once again relying on Pat Metheny?s popular fusion jazz music to restore their identity and history so aligned with Metheny?s music.  
Those who know Metheny?s music are familiar with its rather simple melodic sensibilities juxtaposed over highly complex rhythmic structures.  This is the challenge for the Crossmen at this point if they are to rise up in the twelfth- to seventhteenth-place corps echelon.  The music is catchy and includes a larger variety of Metheny?s music than in past shows, but rhythmic clarity and accuracy are still giving the corps some difficulties. The visual package also needs refinement and greater impact if they are to push their GE scores up enough to be competitive this year.
The Madison Scouts are having no trouble finding fans this year as the old brand is re-established with a new sound and retro look.  Most importantly, the energy and swagger that have always been synonymous with Madison shows have changed the trajectory of the corps from one of uncertainty to one of a hopeful future. Old corps fans, however, may lament the change of sound. This is a far more controlled approach, especially in the brass line with more of an emphasis on the strong middle and low voices, unlike the top-heavy, soprano-favoring lines and arrangements of the past. 
Brass expert Donnie Van Doren and legendary arranger James Prime, Jr. have taken the corps down a different sonic road, but one that is leaning toward the more quality sounds of current brass lines that come from the old Star of Indiana school of quality. That does not mean all is perfect in music world for Madison.  The ensemble is still working hard to maintain control of fast tempos throughout and for a consistent, solid percussion sound. 
The color guard is a huge standout ,with a presence not seen for years in Madison, but also a more theatrical approach.  If all of these aspects can be refined and cleaned, then Madison should have no problem riding a similar wave of momentum that the Troopers did last year back into DCI Finals.
For every time someone complains of dark corps shows, they can look to the Colts? 2010 rebellion against such shows, ?True Colors.?  While it does not have the pizazz of Madison?s show, it is as bright and cheery of a show as one is liable to see or hear this year.  The color guard follows a growing trend of putting units in all-white (e.g. the Troopers) to help colors from silks and other uniforms to really pop.
The music and look is, of course, colorful, but they take care not to overwhelm the audience with color and distract, but rather keep color presentations singular and clear so as to create visual focus.  The music is enjoyable and accessible, but lacks impact and strength of corps in this strata such as the Scouts or Troopers.  The corps will have to figure out how to pull the most out of the musical book and solve ensemble issues if they are to compete again for a top 12 spot in Indianapolis.
The Boston Crusaders have another conceptually strong show with ?Thy Kingdom Come.?  They have picked the same type of traditional corps entrance from the back left corner as The Cadets with a nod to their 70-year history.  The color guard is a standout group that is very entertaining to watch, resplendent in the purple of royalty.  The brass sound remains a strong point for this corps and the show has many pleasing moments to keep the energy going.  
The drill is rather challenging and fast-paced, probably the most challenging obstacle in trying to compete with groups like Phantom or Santa Clara.  Further clarity here and in musical execution will set the corps up for success in Indy. 
The lineup after the intermission could be a partial preview of the very top group of corps at finals this year.  The Bluecoats have surprised everyone with a well-designed show that hit the ground running.  The brass and percussion are firing on all cylinders as the ?Coats continue their highly-conceptual approach they have been developing in the past few years. 
?Metropolis: The Future Is Now? is abstract in that you do not see images of tall buildings, a city skyline or futuristic concepts, outside of the techno-exotic color guard, and perhaps this is part of the genius and early success of this production in that it is not visually over-the-top.  Like Crown from last season, the show has caught judges off guard with its advanced state of preparedness and a finished product that seems to have undergone little change thus far.  
The corps did have some major ensemble problems in the ballad tonight and this could be the achilles heel if there is one.  The members must be supremely focused as an ensemble if they are to continue their early momentum.  This is a difficult musical and visual book they are handling extremely well overall, but its difficulty includes many potential inherent ensemble pitfalls the Canton corps will have to be mindful of if they are to beat near competitors such as Crown and Cavaliers.
Drum Corps World photo by Jeff Hiott
The surprise of the night was those very same Cavaliers, besting the Bluecoats and Crown by over half a point and breaking 90 for first place.  This is thanks to a gigantic visual effort and implemented changes that have brought much-needed flow and impact to what started out as a strange, disparate production way back at Allentown in June. 
While it is a somewhat odd show that is becoming its strength and central focus: the show is about madness, out-of-the-ordinary behavior, uncertainty, fear and the oddly-comic.  This is not an attempt to make light of mental illness, but rather, to explore it and all of its wild emotional swings.  The visual moments that The Cavaliers are known for are becoming more defined, especially through a color guard that is the star of the show.  
However the potential downfall could be musical performance, as their scores indicated tonight.  The brass and percussion have a wild book that they struggled with as an ensemble a few times and while it was not lost on the music judges who placed them third and fourth tonight, the visual judges were impressed enough to keep them in first.  They will have to clean up the musical end to compete with tighter corps like the Bluecoats, Crown and Cadets. 
The Cadets are indeed tightening up their show which has undergone considerable change in the last month.  While the corps plays and marches well as the group traditionally does, the challenge in a show like this is what to follow.  It is essentially ?The Adventures of Little Jeffrey,? but when do we stop watching what happens to Jeffrey and watch the rest of the corps and vice-versa?  One feels like we are missing something interesting the corps is doing to follow Jeffrey, but the narrative may not seem complete if we do not stay focused on its central character. 
Then again, this is the type of challenge The Cadets seem to enjoy throwing out for themselves every year: paint yourself into a corner and see what unexpected solution you can come up with.  While thereis further clarity to what is happening with Jeffrey in that we now know his motivation is to become one of the toy soldiers himself, there are moments where again the narrative gets lost on the audience.  
It must be said that while the design of the music and drill are about as a-typical Cadet as it gets for one of their shows, we must not lose sight of that accomplishment because there are many ensemble issues visually and musically left to solve, especially if they are looking for the kind of boost The Cavaliers got tonight. This is also an  a-typical Cadet method: give yourself motivation for a big end-of-season push to work and fix right up to the last minute and surprise everyone.
A question many may have on their minds at the moment — what has happened to Carolina Crown?  After going undefeated for several contests at the beginning of the year with another strong start and a strong show of high expectations, suddenly the corps finds itself in third place at a contest that did not even involve the corps many thought would be their primary competition this year in the Blue Devils.  The answer is, nothing.  
The corps is going through the same cleaning, refining and changing process everyone else is.  This show has certainly not peaked yet and that is part of its brilliance and trajectory.  The corps will be able to explore many areas of design and performance here and the important thing to remember is the strength of the package. 
The main character, who struggles with decision, is not such a removed element from the show as The Cadets? Jeffrey.  Kerry VanDoren comes in and out of focus as needed during the show, but the concepts of decision and duality are always being explored by the corps, musically and visually, so the concept and loose narrative are seamless.  
There are the inevitable ensemble problems that corps continue to struggle with as they get over the mid-season hump.  Cleaning music and visual will continue to be a challenge if they wish to compete with the likes of Blue Devils, Cavaliers and Bluecoats.  Still, the level of show design and new ideas that all of these corps present this year in performance, narrative and visual ideas have pushed the level of competition to an exciting area that will make for a riveting end-of-season run for all corps, especially an emotional show like Carolina Crown?s with a new ending on the way.  
It is safe to say that no corps and no placement is a lock at this point.

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Posted by on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.