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2muchcoffeeman

Drums along the Rockies

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We jumped on the DCI train for its swing through Drums Along the Rockies, hitting the Laramie, Casper and Denver shows. I was too busy or tired -- to say nothing of occupied, driving 600 miles -- to write anything during the three days, so here's a non-musician's, non-music-educator's impressions of the three contests.


LARAMIE


The show was held at the University of Wyoming, in War Memorial Stadium. At 7,220 feet above sea level -- 500 feet higher than the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River -- no DCI show this year will be higher. A few of the SoA staff told me the first run-through at this altitude wiped out their members, but being young they rallied quickly and didn't have any issues after that.


Interestingly, no one could recall UW ever hosting a drum-corps show, which I found odd, considering the Troopers' long history in Wyoming, the scarcity of suitable show venues in the state, and the fact that the corps often holds an off-season camp in Laramie. But it's a great location. Laramie is mellow in the summer, and the university's Division-I facilities are as good as any DCI corps would want.


The stadium itself is a fabulous show site. The artificial-turf field is snugged tight against the stands -- there is no running track -- and the seating is tall and steep. Plenty of flat, open warmup space beyond the backfield stands, and on this night, the neighboring indoor football practice field was open, giving corps a place warm up and duck out of the 30-minute light shower that passed overhead just before show time.


The crowd was smallish, probably owing partly to the rain which likely hurt the walk-up crowd. But the skies cleared and a Wyoming sunset was coloring the sky when the baby-blue ranks of Spirit of Atlanta appeared at the gate.


Spirit

The corps communicates well. They project a strong, confident presence, which is only intensified by the broad, sober opening statement of the brass. A very satisfying horn sound across the ensemble; individual sections, when featured, revealed some slightly wobbly spots. Drums had a somewhat ragged run, at least in their featured moments. There's a lot of expression and attitude going on, but also too much fuzz. They weren't helped by the snare tuning, which to my ear was dark, flat and without the crisp "dit" attack characteristic of snares. Backfield and inside the hornline, the voice of the battery was often lost.


About the theme. The design at the beginning of the show, and the members' performance of it, does a good job communicating the idea of disaster falling upon . . . someone. The color guard's first big moment is unison work with tailored, square, white flags -- surrender, maybe? These are replaced by blood-colored, tattered banners that slice throught the corps, scattering them. Effective.


Beyond that point, the burden of the theme appears to be carried more by pre-recorded snippets of politician speeches offering consoling and encouraging words. There is body movement expressing burden and grief. There is music -- good music, nice to listen to, though it didn't put me in a mind of loss or grief, or later, triumph. The ending is big and powerful and very good, though it didn't leave me feeling I had risen out of anything, ashes or otherwise.


Pacific Crest

There is a giant blue-and-purple cube. The corps enters the field utterly hypnotized by it. Then the show begins and they ignore the cube, and proceed to ignore it for long stretches, except at points where they are inexplicably again swooning under its spell. The cube moves, gradually, from side 1 to side 2. Then it returns to midfield and pushes forward. At last, the mystery revealed! At the front hash, the cube splits open, each half pushing toward an end zone. The horns and drums play furiously. They march a big, frantic, drum-corps finish. There are now two halves of a cube on the field. End of show.


So I'm still wondering what the deal is with the cube. Perhaps all will be revealed at Indianapolis.


Meanwile, the PC horn line sounds lush and big, nicely balanced. These kids are listening hard to each other. Some nice impacts, and the corps moves pretty well. Three days after the show, it's difficult to recall specific music or visual moments. It's that #### cube.


Academy

I'd been eagerly waiting a chance to see them. Let's just say that Academy knows how to put on a show. They have the showmanship gene, and it's dominant. From first note to last, the crowd was in this one, and responded enthusiastically.


There is a lot of Mary Poppins, if not much actual story line. This show seems to capitalize on your memories of the story, and highlights moments of it. Some great showman moments throughout -- the flags that spell out "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," the tap-dancing hands, the high-kicking trumpets -- and all well performed. There is a lot of jazz-run, follow-me movement, as well as dress-and-cover movements guided by the presence of large grids of chimney blocks. The drum line moves a *lot.* And while there seems to be a large amount of brass tacet throughout, the company-front ending is tremendously satisfying. I can't remark with any insight on the quality of the brass or drums. They sounded drum-corps quality to me, though nothing made me sit up and say "wow." But I left Laramie smiling, knowing I would see Academy again in Denver.


Colts

Some very clever visual moments and shining brass wrapped up in a bit of muddle of a story. The color guard carries much of the weight of the show, and they do a very good job. Some excellent rifle soloists.


So, the story. There is a guy. Or, rather, a radio guy, but there also is an actual guy, on the field, but sometimes up on top of a box, acting out what the radio guy is saying. The radio-studio bit throughout the show is performed excellently, and the monocrhome look to it is genius. The voice actors have plenty of Joisey accent and Joisey attitude. What I couldn't understand so much was the story they were telling. There's the city, yeah, and it's a heartless place, yeah, and there's a guy and doll, got it, and they maybe are in love or something? Or there's some kind of bad blood between yellow gangster and red gangster? And then there's a sailor from Iowa who tries to woo the girl, I'm not sure. The sailor and the girl sure seem to dance a lot. And she's surprisingly easily sold on the idea of moving to Iowa. There's lots of excellent rifle work and the horn line is blowing you away, but I keep watching this gray radio announcer pondering his clipboard for minutes at a time, waiting for his next line. When he does step up to his microphone, as often as not his wordsbegintoruntogether and itshardtomakeoutwhathe'ssaying about the redgansterandtheyellowgangster and what it all means. I dunno. If the point is to tell an actual story with character and plot and conflict and resolution, then there's work to be done here. If the point is to set a mood and paint a story only in broad, culturally familiar gangster strokes, then you have to wonder why radio announcers and their many words are needed.


The final moments are excellent, putting a nice dark-night-in-the-city-that-never-sleeps sheen over everything. Some have scratched their heads at the cool ending, but I thought it was very effective.


Troopers

After the fun-and-games of Mary Poppins and dark alleys of Colts' show, Troopers brought a different vibe. Naturally, the home crowd ate it up. Battery had an excellent run, and the brass was the Troopers brass you all know about. The visual presentation has been improving. Several new touches throughout, including brass players who swing lassos and tie up several of the color-guard wild horses. I'm sure the UW venue alone, with the statue of a bucking bronc in the end zone, and a big bronc painted on the 50, was worth an extra GE point, given the Troopers' "Wild Horses" theme.


Some are incredulous, saying Troopers couldn't POSSIBLY be 3-4 points better than Colts, Academy or Spirit. On this night, they were. The difference was audible in the battery and front ensemble. It was noticeable in the horn repertoire. It was palpable in the heft and serious-mindedness of the overall program. It was visible in the demand to the drill. It was evident in the cohesion of the show theme. I'm a homer for sure, so take that for whatever it's worth. The partial panel of judges certainly saw it that way.


APRES-SHOW

The kids from Spirit visited with the Troopers, sharing an evening snack and by all appearances having a great time together. Good to see.



CASPER

The show site was the older of the two high schools in Casper. Excellent artifical-turf surface tight to the stands; no running track to put extra distance between the corps and the fans. After a day of stiff Wyoming winds, the conditions calmed down to a beautiful evening. Stands nearly full, with a crowd that knows drum corps. Crown came to this show in 2013, and laid "Einstein on the Beach" on Casper. There's something cool about the idea of some of the activity's top units going all the way out to the middle of Wyoming to perform such high-quality programs. A real treat. And we all know what performing at Casper did for Crown in 2013 :-)


A classy touch: Dean Westman, formerly of Troopers and currently with Bluecoats, posted a FB note urging Bloo members to look around and soak up the DCI history around them in Casper. I'm sure that for a bunch of Bluecoat kids from Canton, Wyoming might as well have been the Moon.


Cascades

The corps was missing -- or decided not to use, though the wind did not appear to be an issue -- its spinning globe, so they just pushed around the base on which it usually is fixed. The crowd was none the wiser, but those who saw Cascades the next night in Denver probably realized in retrospect how much they missed the night before.


The show is well-constructed, hanging a variety of space-related music on a visual framework that incorporates various galactic cues, such as a sprial-arm galaxy -- complete with the Earth in its proper place at the outer rim.


A highlight: a 30-second robotic-dance break by the entire corps, to electronified beats. Big crowd response, and it sent the few remaining moments of the show out on a high-energy note. Some noticeable clarity issues in the battery. Overall a well-built program that the members are selling well.


Mandarins

A very aggressive, cohesive show, with a strong sound and some big moments. Not sure how much "Resurrection" comes across, but the members project a very confident air and clearly buy into the show. The horn line is genuinely powerful at times, and the drums bring big sounds. The guard pushes around several large, round discs made to look like the heads of taiko drums, and they use mallets to create the visual impression of striking them, while the percussion section actually sounds the notes. It's an effective sleight of hand, though in spots the guard members are pounding away on the faux taiko without any corrresponding thumps from the drum line. A rousing, high-engery ending that had the crowd on its feet.


Oregon Crusaders

A nice change of pace from last year's morose take on Edgar Allen Poe. What caught my attention was the battery, which was outstanding, and which is featured for maybe 3 minutes in the show. When you see OC this year, you will see a lot of their drum line, and perhaps the longest bass-line soli in DCI history.


Bluecoats

I can say nothing that hasn't already been said. But to see Bloo up-close in such an intimate performance setting was a real treat. The final moments of the show, drowned out by the crowd's cheering in Denver, was perfectly audible in the Casper venue, and thus much more surprising and effective.


Troopers

Tough act to follow Bluecoats, but Troop acquitted itself nicely. The guard had perhaps its best performance of the season so far, and their improvement has helped the overal visual clarity of the show immensely. The "lasso" moment is a fun touch, though the members need to sell the character more and get more comfortable with the ropes. They seem to be withdrawn inside themselves a bit, looking a bit sheepish, and need to push the character out the ends of their fingertips instead, to make the idea sell. The vocalist sounded very comfortable and commanding of the material. The final company front brought the crowd up, and it stayed up through the final notes of the show. A Casper crowd got a Troopers performance that they loved. As it should be.


Alums were on the field after the show and sang the corps song with the current members.



DENVER

Perfect night, a bit on the warm side, in Denver in one of the best drum-corps venues anywhere. Some heavy rain to the north, around Boulder, but the gusts and rain steered clear of downtown Denver. Huge crowd. Video snips from Minneapolis were on the scoreboard during breaks.


Cascades

The globe was in, so that was a help. The crowd gave them a big response. Overall, the crowd was loud and appreciative for all the corps. Had to be a thrill for the members on the field.


Mandarins

Their booming drums boomed even more in cavernous Invesco. A snare drummer lost his drum at one point during a mark time, but forutnately was able to scoop it up before moving on and someone else could trip over it. Their big, dark sound plays well in a big stadium. Should do well in the dome.


Pacific Crest

Still no answers to the mystery of the cube. Perhaps in San Antonio.


Oregon Crusaders

More tastiness from the drum line. A giant clock-tower, covered in vines, looms backfield throughout, its only contribution being a visual cue to the tolling of clock chimes during the pre-show. Perhaps more is in store for it later. The theme, "midnight garden," appears to invovle color-guard characters with enchantment powers, but otherwise isn't obviously evident in the horns and drums, who appear just to want to blow and bang among the garden nymphs. A very entertaining show.


INT -- Got some more video from Minneapolis, including SCV.


Spirit

Lordy it's good to see those baby blues on such a large, green stage. The chorale impacts, delivered in tight blocks/wedges, were enthusitically received by the crowd. Still a muddy sound coming from the battery.


Academy

There are always a lot of HS band kids in the stands at the Denver show -- Colorado has a thriving scholastic band scene -- and they went nuts for Academy. Their show just communicates so well. There are no mysteries. Tons of energy, lots of smiles, and a nice mix of power and whimsy in the music. And that finish just makes you want to run out there and hug them.


Troopers

Not quite a home show, but Troop always is a crowd favorite in Denver. To my eye the visual was not quite as snappy as in Casper, though the lasso bit was better. In the echo chamber of that big stadium, the vocals were flawless. The brass pumped out plenty of power, though it seems the big moment in the ballad needs a bit of extra oomph. Perhaps they're keeping something in the tank -- or perhaps the horns were simply shooting over my head to the sky-high box at Invesco. The finish to Adrenaline City was as strong as I've seen it this season, and it got a big response from the crowd.


Colts

Trumpets were sparkling -- razor-sharp attacks and that polished Colts tone. With such a steep and high grandstand, the backing-up arcs at the closer's impact were especially effective -- an expanding form producing a big and growing sound. Still difficult to pick up every word from the radio announcer; his character is fine, he just needs more air between his words. The crowd seemed to like the diminuendo ending just fine.


Bluecoats

The place went crazy. It was so loud in the audience at the end that the on-field sound coming from the corps couldn't be heard. The final sharp cutoff of that blaring electronic white noise could not be heard. Kinda pointless for me to remark on any issues involving quality or effecitveness. Bloo was bloo, and Denver was happy.


Blue Knights

Ok, the mirrors. They are not props. They are neither moved nor made part of the show. They are tools to help hide the guard. Because the surface of the mirror reflects the grass in front of it, they create the illusion that a person disappears when they step behind the mirror. The guard uses this illusion to great effect -- disappearing in a blink and then popping into view, seemingly out of nowhere, at opportune moments. They also use some curved, devils-horn-looking hardware to create stunning effects during the ballad. Overall, a minimalist look on the field from BK; a change for them compared to the past few years.


BK has never been my favorite cup of tea, but in the past two seasons I have been entranced by their percussion writing. It's unlike any other drum vocabulary I've heard on the field. It demands a high degree of expressiveness, and like a skilled jazz drummer, it uses space between the notes as a propulsive force. And singles! There are honest-to-goodness 24th-note singles throughout. BK may be the last preserve of this rudiment. Sure, other drum lines play them, but BK plays lots more of them -- or, at least, they seem to because they play them out front where they can be seen and heard.


As for the show, "Because" is just a word they use because it's easier to announce than "We couldn't think of theme this year but here's some bad-### music and marching for your entertainment." BK sounds grown-up and full of seriousness, though the program doesn't follow a line so much as it sequences a series of moments. Very impressive moments, to be sure, but without much sense of direction. Not a bad thing, necessarily, unless you demand stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. If not, you'll like Blue Knights just fine; everything leads into the next moment seamlessly. This is a very confident corps visually, and some of the drill boggles. A particularly frenetic moment in the closer defies description, but it is mezmerizing, if still on the fuzzy side. A month from now, after much cleaning, it will be one of the talking points of championship week.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Academy and Colts tightened the gap on Troopers compared to the Laramie scores, and that seemed right to me. Troopers certainly didn't regress -- indeed, their score increased each night -- but I thought Academy and Colts both sparkled a bit more in Denver than they did a couple nights earlier. The tie between Colts and Academy, however, was ludicrous.


A word about the goo. No one even tries to disguise it any more. It has become like any other instrument, and like other instruments, there are moments when the goo is not only tolerated, but emphasized. I thought maybe it was an artifact of the webcasts, but no. It may be even more pronounced in the live setting.

Edited by 2muchcoffeeman
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Very nice, insightful review that captured the flavor of all three shows. Very much appreciated and Thank You. I especially got a chuckle out of your Denver show comment regarding The Academy's closing company front "and that finish just wants you run out there and hug them." The kids in the Corps definitely felt the love coming their way.

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Great review, thanks!!

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TooMuch:

You state: "The tie between Colts and Academy, however, was ludicrous."

Please elaborate.

Andy.

Hope is a good thing

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TooMuch:

You state: "The tie between Colts and Academy, however, was ludicrous."

Please elaborate.

Andy.

Hope is a good thing

Your user name is fancy. Are you some kind of hot shot banker?

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And were you not the one who whacked my wife and her lover?

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Nice Review! I was at Ogden & Denver & Hadn't had time to write a review.

Here are my thoughts:

Cascades - Wow! what a difference a year makes. After years of struggling to beat Pioneer with a small corps, this corps has huge numbers, is energized, has a brand now look, and an entertaining show! You can hear the youth of the corps, and there is a ton to clean, but this is a gigantic leap forward for Cascades and I'm thrilled to see it. The space theme is clear, and the robotic sequence at the end is fun (the unison dance moves could be beefed up more for even more impact). Nice power, though very bright, from the horn line. Good to see solid numbers in guard as well after years of very small guards from Cascades. This corps will shock a lot of people all season long just on the year over year growth. I don't think they can clean and mature enough to break into Semis or anything, but it's a huge and terrific building block for the corps.

Pacific Crest - Technically competent, with some decent musical moments, for sure. What I didn't like (or get) was the theme or the big blue/purple box. Perhaps there are major components not added yet, but right now it's a pointless distraction & ineffective. And the "climax" with the box splitting in two, only to reveal the empty inside (with scaffolding) of both halves of the box is almost comically pointless. Hoping there is more to come...

Oregon Crusaders - I saw them at both shows, and while there is solid excellence within the corps, the theme, music and design seem to be behind last year's product. Some very good brass playing, and the guard seems to have improved a bit, but marching & visual execution are still big weak points for OC. I loved last year's show and was hoping to see OC take a big leap forward. There is still 4 weeks to go, but I'm not sure how far they can take this show.

Mandarins - Loud, powerful, great brass quality and dark. Nice show from Mandarins. Perhaps their best performance levels (for early July) in 10+ years. I don't really see or get a resurrection theme, but very much looking forward to seeing this show a 2nd time.

Spirit - a VERY pleasant revelation! After last years show, my expectations were very low, and they greatly exceeded them. Brass wise, a far more mature & proficient group with a far better music book. The ballad, with the wedge in the front was a highlight of the entire night, and the source of my first goosebumps of the season. Guard is solid as well. Not sure why they aren't scoring a tad better after the first read and definitely didnt' agree with the one GE judge who had them in 9th. Looking forward to seeing this show again. Some good drill at times (more drill & less staging than some, thankfully). Love the Unis, too.

Academy - like Sprit, another very pleasant revelation. Just a leap up in quality & design for Academy, for a 2nd year in a row. The Mary Poppins inspired show is a blast, and the corps is already achieving good showmanship & performance levels. Love this show. Clearly one of the favorites from the crowd both in Ogden & Denver. I think they have the design to pass Colts and challenge Troopers if they can clean up their visual performance levels and keep improving musically. Bravo, Academy!

Colts - A talented corps with a nice drill. The program, however, is not for me. I grew to like last year's show with the heavy narrative emphasis, but to me the story & narration this year are much more disconnected and amateur. The script is weak and dialogue detracts in many cases. The "corpse" outline is a great drill touch to open & close the show. The show, like the narration is very disjunct, though. While the Sam Smith Ballad is beautiful it fits nothing in the show before or after it, for example. A far stronger corps than their product at this point in time.

Troopers - A very, very solid Troopers corps that should be more than 2 points in front of Colts (Good to see 3-4 point margins in other shows). Troopers have a very strong product with an excellent brass line & an improved guard over last year. Some nice drill moments as well, and effective use of the fencing props. Definitely a show I need to get another read or 2 on to know how much of a threat to Finals I think they are. Very enjoyable. Go Troop!

Blue Knights - I was afraid they would have a hard time living up to last year's very emotional and beautiful show (one of my favorites from any corps this decade), and so far after 2 viewings I'm afraid I might be right. Technically, they are even stronger than last year, with a great brass line, solid visual program and strong guard. The mirrors work perfectly if you sit on the 50 in the 2nd deck to basically just give guard & corps members a chance to seemingly disappear. The closer is the most effective (and emotional) part of the show right now after the first 1/2 of the show is pretty dry. I am looking forward to seeing where BK takes this show, though, and they are a very good corps that could easily nail 6th place in championships.

Bluecoats - Another corps who at first read feels like they had a stronger program last year, but performance and talent wise, these guys are championship caliber. I just didn't like my first read of the show. Last year had great music with nice prop & electronic accents. This year, it seems like the electronics are TOO central (and the props far less effective). The show leaves me impressed after a first view, but less then engaged and moved. a 2nd read will tell me a lot more.

So, knowing that first viewings can be very misleading, here are my biggest takeaways form the 10 corps I have seen so far live:

Big leaps forward:

  • Cascades
  • Spirit
  • Academy

Ahead of last year:

  • Mandarins
  • Troopers

My 2 cents so far!

Harvey

Edited by TexasPRfan
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