2011 DCW On-Line: Stockton, California

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by Jim Claytor, Drum Corps World staff (drumcorpsworldjim [at] yahoo [dot] com)

June 24, 2011 – Stockton, CA . . . The Cadets’ “Between Angeles and Demons,” is a show that changes and gets wilder each time you see it. The first time I thought it was good, but wasn’t sure what to think because this corps is usually a lot more demur and reserved in their actions on the field. Well, this year they stepped out of the box and after seeing it a second time, I did everything except run up and chest bump George Hopkins who was steadily pacing and wearing down the grass in front of me.

This show is amazing. No matter what your favorite corps is, you will eventually have to succumb to the inevitable, which is, this show is one of the best of 2011. With an opening number powerful enough to be part of the score for the 2009 feature film “Angels and Demons,” the war between good and evil/heaven and hell will be fought until at least mid-August on the DCI battle field in Indianapolis. I saw this show again two days later here in Stockton and the overall execution and entertainment level was like night and day.

This corps has cleaned so much of their production, the emotional response from the crowd was unparallel compared to just two days ago. Since the corps is evenly divided as if there were two corps on the field at once, and both at war vowing to get that top spot, at one point the two sides (burgundy uniforms and cream uniforms) literally run toward each other and battle it out in center field.

The battle starts with both drum lines going after each other musically once they reach center field. So overall tonight was a great night for The Cadets, with a first-place win over the World Champion Blue Devils.

Having a more relaxed than usual show, but very effective production titled “The beat my Heart Skipped,” the Blue Devils have taken the classics of Burt Bacharach and added that internal passion to create the perfect 2011 field show. With music like Promises Promises, A House Is Not A Home, Say A Little Prayer and many more of his greatest hits, you’ll be singing along as well. After seeing it for the third time in three days, it proved to be much tighter and more refined.

Being roughly about a point away from The Cadets, you know the Concord corps will be knocking heaven’s door really soon with much-improved overall scores. I have to give credit to the color guard that pretty much has that wow factor going on with their 1960s throwback uniforms. But be it known, this guard may dress in the 1960s style, but is one of the most powerful in the country. This coincides with one of the top-ranked horn lines.

It’s still early in the season and I think the house the Blue Devils build during each show will finish construction sometime in mid-August when the angels and devils collide.

The Santa Clara Vanguard this weekend has found themselves almost out of “The Devils Staircase,” being only about four points from that top position. One of the real highlights is the musicality of the pit, showing how they are truly in tune with this really fast but classic Vanguard show. The musical interpretation as well as delivery of the overall performance — in what most orchestra conductors would sa is an “unconventional medium — has been beautifully deciphered by the Vanguard.

Their 2011 program which consists of songs by Samuel Barber, Gyorgy Ligeti, Avner Dorman and Carl Jenkins, and collectively make up a grouping that is something you would not even think of being played on a stage this size and especially marching and playing bugles at the same time. But SCV put on a really powerful performance and has somewhat stabilized for the moment. If you know the Vanguard, then you know this is only a stepping stone to a top spot.

The corps obviously did a lot of cleaning over the past 24 hours and it shows. My prediction is that we will probably see a drastic increase in upward mobility by the time they get to the Midwest, yet again proving that their development is working and change is inevitable.

Phantom Regiment, Rockford, IL, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Scott Bates)

Phantom Regiment had the entire crowd in awe with their emotionally-charged production of “Juliet.” Tonight the corps played to the crowd, very stoically, but in a way that romantically evoked a lot of deep, heartfelt emotions. After speaking to several people in the crowd, many comments were primarily about how beautiful the show is, but yet, powerfully charged enough to put you on an emotional rollercoaster. A lot of the women I spoke with were put in that romantic mood (a few guys, too . . . lol) and a couple were actually weeping as the show ended, saying that it was so beautiful, but embarrassed that they were crying in front of everyone.

Though Phantom’s placement was the same as the night before, several members I spoke with stated that they were planning on rehearsing after the show tonight. At any rate, this production is incredibly beautiful and I would personally recommend everyone see it at least once. But don’t forget your tissues.

Pacific Crest came out of the gate swinging tonight, with their show called “Push, Pull, Twist and Turn.” One thing that I noticed was the intensity of the opening number that wasn’t quite there the previous two nights. Because of the aggressiveness right out of the box, the corps tightened the gap with Mandarins to only about half a point. The overall performance from my vantage point was a cleaner color guard and a much tighter horn line that included noticeable dynamics and execution.

Knowing Stuart Pompell, the director, I’m sure he will have his staff intensify their overall production, to show Southern California’s only World Class unit is not going away anytime soon, but instead, let everyone know that it’s time to push the envelope! Ladies and Gentlemen, hold on to your seats because this wave is about to crest.

The Mandarins were on fire tonight! Knowing Pacific Crest was on their heels, they were not taking anything for granted. Their program of “The Forty Thieves” was better excuted tonight. Though the percussion caption was slightly lower and brass was up, they still managed to stay one step ahead of their southern California rivals.

The opening number is one of those that at first you think of as a soft flowing intro, until they turn around and hit you with a wall of pure energy. The drill is fast and the music is driven by very intense melodies with some absolutely fantastic runs in the pit. This is one of the most difficult shows I’ve seen from the Mandarins and by the look of things, this corps will be giving everyone a run for their money the closer it gets to DCI.

The Blue Knights, known for always producing an incredible horn line, tonight performed in their third of three Northern California appearances. Their appearance at the University of the Pacific stadium proved to be another step up on their journey to the 2011 DCI Finals. The opening since Friday has become very powerful and majestic, with a noticeable interjection of increased passion and musicality than we heard the previous two nights.

Their second piece, English Folk Song Suite, is one of my all-time favorites and again brought back great memories, but was noticeably cleaner in the area of visual ensemble. I’ll have to say over the past three days, they’ve put an enormous amount of work into perfecting their overall production and I’m sure that it doesn’t stop here.

The Denver corps has always been more of a classy musical appreciation of the arts type of corps, as opposed to a more flashy, props-infused type of organization. This show was much better and I’m looking forward to seeing their hard work pay off at the DCI Championships.

All we need now is Grammy winner Sting to sing his part in the Blue Devils B 2011 program called “Synchronicity.” Starting off with a hot drum line interlude, this corps quickly picks up the pace like something fierce. With a huge horn line playing music we all recognize and love, Blue Devils B will have you singing along with them (as I was) within the first minute. I also have to say the baritone and trumpet soloists in the opening number were exceptional!

The song choice is absolutely perfect, off the Police Synchronicity album. As they maneuver through this fast and difficult drill, things eventually start to slow down a bit to let you get a breath, as they move into a cool number by Sara Bareilles called Kaleidoscope Heart. Once they have you in their grips, they speed things up a little bit and come at you with a sexy, jazzy tune called Murder by Numbers, written by Sting and Andy Summers. Next they take you on this emotional rollercoaster ride with Krump, by Scott McAllister, and Synchronicity II by Sting.

Closing this juggernaut of a performance is an original music composition by John M. Meehan. This show is definitely one to be seen from a high vantage point, especially the wild color guard performance. Be sure not to miss about halfway when one of the drummers from the pit, gets behind a drum kit and rips out this killer solo. Once he gets going, the rest of the pit jumps in with their blazing fast hands on the xylophone and marimba, then the next thing you know the entire drum line jumps in on the action and all you can think about doing is jumping up and dancing like you were at a Police concert!

Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets, Santa Clara, CA, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Francesca DeMello)

The Vanguard Cadets’ show is fast, but well-executed and extremely exciting for this Open Class corps. Sitting in the second position just below Blue Devils B, tonight the Santa Clara corps is closing in on their prey. With a very, very impressive trumpet line and a great drum line, this corps balances the overall performance at a phenomenally professional level, as one would expect from the SCV organization.

Their 2011 program, “Balance,” literally at one point lets you see their balance and expertise in drumming and rifle control. I have to also give credit to the color guard and tenor line, as they look better than I’ve seen from them in years.

Revolution, a DCI Open Class corps from San Antonio, TX, rode into California this weekend hoping to capture that winning momentum and propel into the number one position at all three northern California competitions. Though this corps was a bit smaller than their competitors this weekend, the group comes onto the field with something rather unexpected, a small hor nline with a huge sound.

I was taken aback by the pure musicality of this drum corps and their ability to “sell” the show as well as corps twice their size. But make no mistake, their musical ability is seriously something to keep your eye on. Even though they stayed in the third spot for the first three shows of the 2011 California season, I seriously expect them to take their magnificent show to DCI and have a jovial and very well-respected time, but with a high placement.

Blue Devils C — yes, I said C. How many of you knew that there was a Blue Devils C? Well, just in case you didn’t, drum corps activity, meet Blue Devils C and Blue Devils C, meet all of your thousands of new drum corps fans!

Last Saturday night in Stockton, this corps made up of 8- to 14-year-olds, wowed the crowd with an incredible show titled “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Their 2011 repertoire of Entry of the Gladiators, Fantasy on two Folk Songs, Sobre Las Olas (Over the Waves), a beautiful original compositions by John M. Meehan, showed everyone that they’re a force to be reckoned with. This show with great Drum Major Daniel Clift, conducted this corps with the greatest of ease, all the while knowing he had an audience to please.

With the feeling of being under the “big top,” the show was complete with five pedestals strategically set up on the field, as if elephants or lions were on their way out. The greatest thing, though, was this fantastic horn line that included some very cool solos and a drum line that’s smokin’! Also, Director Rick Odello put together a great corps, including a highly-athletic color guard with fantastic new uniforms and a pit that can probably run circles around the Blue Devils World Class corps.

Even though their score was a little low (in my opinion), I’m confident that their next show will be the most impressive to date! BDC, you guys rock!

“The Seventh Sense,” this year’s theme for the San Francisco Renegades, is again what we expect from the all-age corps . . . the unexpected! Looking at their current song selection was pretty mind-boggling to say the least. The repertoire includes Wishing You Were Here by Pink Floyd, Main Titles from the movie “Signs” by James Newton Howard, Hall of the Mountain King by Edward Grieg, Derezzed by Daft Punk, Channel One Suite by Bill Reddie, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd and Mombasca by Hans Zimmer.

Starting out with a great horn solo, the Renegades open their performance with a bang! This show seems a little faster and more aggressive that the usual style they’ve used in the past, but I have to admit, I like these aggressive men and women in black. It shows a whole new “bad boy, bad girl” side to the corps. I also need to give credit to the tuba section who play like it’s their last show ever!

Periodically throughout the show the pit inserts a few seconds of that goosebump-giving melody from the Mel Gibson alien film “Signs” just to keep you on edge, thus giving their performance a sometimes dark and eerie feel. This show has some really screamin’ solos and even one played by the drum major that rocks! This year’s program, even though slightly musically eclectic, puts you in that place where you leave the stadium and there’s that one song you just can’t get out of your head, then you hear it over and over again, until your seventh sense kicks in, modifing your thought pattern, and clears your brain of something as ominous as the repetitive musical thought process of the Renegades’ 2011 show.

This corps has some great, recognizable songs that will leave you singing them as you leave the stadium. I wish the Renegades all the best at DCA this year because your show is HOT!

Posted by on Monday, July 11th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.