2011 DCW On-Line: Allentown, Pennsylvania – Saturday Night

| |

by William Aldrich-Thorpe, Drum Corps World staff (aldrichthorpe [at] gmail [dot] com)

August, 6 2011 — Allentown, PA . . . On this very wet and threatening evening, the Blue Devils barely edged the Cadets by a smallest of margins — a one-half tenth of a point! That is 0.050 of a point difference. Two amazing programs, two superior performances, only one could stand tall this evening. Tonight it was Blue Devils with only a week before the big dance in Indianapolis. Let the games begin!

What a seriously nasty day. It rained and rained and rained even more, and it was a serious possibility of either a delay of the show start or at the very worst, cancellation. This could have been the case considering all the weather sensitivity of front ensemble equipment and the inclusion of expensive electronics and pickup microphones. A steady rain would certainly make it near impossible to allow the performances to continue. Thankfully, the rain was isolated and it allowed the show to start on time and it certainly did not dissuade the large crowd from braving the weather and attending this fantastic event.

This night, the audience was witness to some serious competition at several levels within the lineup and especially at the top with Carolina Crown, The Cadets and Blue Devils in that specific order, all with a legitimate shot at winning this evening and setting the pace going into DCI Championship week.

It all came down to the best performance as the Blue Devils truly shined this evening with their highly-intriguing program titled “The Beat My Heart Skipped.” It was simply a matter of numbers, with BD edging the rest of the field with a strong visual performance and color guard as they captivated the audience with a master class brass and percussion book.

The music was highly recognizable and played with near perfection. Brass had a brilliant evening with stratospheric trumpets and sensuous lower bass that shook the stands with such power and precision. Percussion was extremely expressive, with a highly-creative book. But it was the total package that took the evening with their outstanding color guard leading the way with spectacular athletic and choreographed movement that seemed almost effortless.

The primary visual focus was several large white cube props that are wheeled around the field and incorporated beautifully into the near non-stop marching program with so many different elements of performers that were both independent in their presentation and at the same time highly-integrated into a spectacular production. No matter where you cast your eyes there was something interesting happening. From white posts used to create different and changing geometric shapes on the field to tightly integrated brass, percussion and color guard, members performed with near-perfect execution.

Words are just not sufficient to truly give this show justice. The music is so well-constructed to the total visual program that when it all resolves to the house with the picket fence it seemed to appear almost magically from near randomness. Highly creative, brilliantly performed, Blue Devils put everything they had into this evening and it paid off with dividends and the highest total score of the season.

The Cadets, Allentown, PA, Drum Corps World photo by Brett Owens

What a singularly stupendous production and performance brought in by The Cadets this evening with their phenomenal production titled “Between Angels and Demons” that completely spellbound the near-capacity audience. The program is as creative a show as we have ever witnessed on the competition field. Every nuance of the good and bad, angels and demons was in evidence this night. The new demon uniforms were a masterstroke and the music was truly heaven-sent.

The clash both visually and musically between the two competing groups was so cool with the demons constantly trying to override the angels at every note. The visual program was genus with the pace and fiery performances, the great battle between good and evil played out with such fantastic results it left the crowd screaming at every transition and resolution. The color guards use of silver and gold poles san silks was mesmerizing and was an outstanding cool effect. The corps performance of Amazing Grace was truly inspirational and performed with such sensitivity and passion that it will be easily be one of the fans favorite number to be played over and over again. This will be a very memorable year for the Cadets. When the black angel and white angel do finally battle it out the performance is epic and the program reaches such fantastic resolution that had the audience jumping to its feet. With only this merest of margins to the Devils, the upcoming DCI Championship is certainly going to be up for grabs.

I felt sorry for Carolina Crown this evening as they were only one of a couple of corps that was actually rained upon during their performance. Did it have any true effect to the performance? I personally think not If anything, it energized them to reach a more fevered pitch and to sell their very exciting 2011 production of “Rach Star.” This show is phenomenal, very accessible to the fans and yes, it recycles a few musical numbers that would have been stale and tired under anyone else’s program, but this talented staff made it one of the most talked-about and definitely a fan favorite of the season.

From the moment the corps entered the field it was game-on, with performers bringing several scaffolding towers used with perfection and great fun. What a program, from Queen’s opening number We WIll Rock You that gets the house “truly” rocking, to their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, this show just brings it with powerful brass and percussion, and in-your-face performances. The color guard was brilliant and sold the rocker part with excellent characterization and tight equipment handling. The piano player in the front ensemble was a spectacular performer that coupled his ferocity in playing with a style and flair reminiscent of other great piano performers like Sir Elton John. It is the total visual program that will have the fans reviewing this show over and over on (Blue-ray) DVD and will be a true favorite for years to come.

Fans’ love of the Santa Clara Vanguard runs almost as deep as they did for other such fan favorite corps like the Troopers and the Bayonne Bridgemen of a time past. They are a corps that had introduced the qualities and power of classic music to many new drum corps fans and I had hoped this season’s performance of “The Devil’s Staircase” would be that stepping stone to a new level of musical appreciation. It is a beautifully expressive production with talented performers, but I never felt as if I was brought into the show as a viewer, so I had a difficult time understanding the overall production.

Was the overall theme presented? I think yes and I believe the difficulty of the musical and visual book was appreciated by the fans overall. Maybe it was the unfamiliar music or was it in the show design that seemed to be at times hard to follow the plot of the program? I’m not 100% sure, but I certainly appreciated the delivery of the production.

Technically, the show rocked with a powerful brass portrayal and percussion line that was solid in their performance and a true standout this evening. Color guard was awesome, giving the Blue Devils a run for top guard honors, delivering solid execution and an expressive performance.

“Revolution” is the titled of the 2011 Boston Crusaders production and it was a major hit for the Allentown fans this evening. The collaboration of the “Les Miserable” Broadway musical and interspersed with the majestic “1812 Overture” was a stroke of genius. So many cool ideas went into this rich production and certainly showed a creative staff from the frontline cloth covering with the spotlights making for some goosebump moments, though it was not 100% clear of the shadow play that was the ultimate goal from the upper stand viewpoint.

This production got a great crowd response (even with some folks in the stands singing along during the corps’ pre-show warm-up). Clearly this show was programmed for the audience. The Attack on Rue Plumet was rock-solid musically and visually, and the outstanding baritone soloist during Bring Him Home was superb. The interplay visually between the brass line and the 38 rifles was cool and quite clean this evening. This was a very well-balanced production and performance across the board.

You have to give the Blue Knights credit, they certainly can pick shows that are so far afield from traditional drum corps programs and this season was no exception. “An English Folk Song Suite” was an interesting production. It was not designed for all audience members as it lended itself to more esoteric musical tastes. It by no means took away from the quality of the performance. The show has many excellent moments with a creative musical book that the staff worked very hard to make work on a competition field.

The prerecorded music from the front ensemble at the start did not seem to fit completely with the field performance when transitioned, but could be missing something in the translation. Shadows of 27th Lancers’ musical styling was faintly heard in the musical presentation as it carried much the same majestic qualities. Solid overall performances though the percussion line was somewhat off this evening.

Spirit of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, Drum Corps World photo by Moe Knox

Spirit of Atlanta had a really clever program titled “ATL Confidential: A Tribute to Film Noir” that encompasses the vintage “who done it!!” films of yesteryear. From the very moment the corps enters the field to set up, the front ensemble is playing a pre-recorded samples of different film clips in the old scratchy fashion. The show is replete with all the old film nuances that include a “lady in red” and overcoat villains.

They have many cool moments throughout, one was with the snare line “answering the phone” visual and when they play on barstools. This is another case of a corps truly playing to the audience. It is pure fun and quirky. Brass has some serious power at times that surprised many in the audience. Spirit certainly gets the award for nicest front screens with the vintage film noir movie marquis. They look very professional and set the theme quite well. Loved the show overall and it may do quite well come Indianapolis and the DCI Championship.

Wow The Academy’s new uniforms are very cool and interesting, with the overall black coloring and coat tail styling. The color guard certainly got everyone’s attention with their multi-colored tight leotards with the outlandish headgear. They also have an equally interesting show simply titled “(RE)” that makes one wonder what the show is actually about. Musically, the show starts off powerfully, but I got lost with the visual program. Brass was cranking tonight and it had a great musical flow to it.

Visual ensemble was a bit hit or miss and at times it looked like forms barely had a chance to lock into place. They stand solid with their overall performance, but the show concept is at times hard to follow, but what a great visual package.

Colts had a show that has all the right elements, but needed a few more seasoned performers to truly carry it off. The show was titled “Deception: The Jagged Edge” and it basically was a show built around a twist of “Swan Lake.” Musically, the corps handles it well, but the performance seemed to lack any real wow moment. Many nice programming notes such as the white swan transformation to black the guard did an impressive job, but just not a overall memorable performance. The corps has talent both musically and in the guard, and given the right show concept could propel this corps back up the ranks.

Crossmen still have their fan base here in Allentown and they did not let the corps down tonight. This is a well-seasoned corps that is showing signs of the X-men of old. The Texas corps is coming into their identity again with the same groove and energy that has made them a fan favorite for years. This is the first show of the evening that really stood out with a good old, toe-tapping, genuinely entertaining drum corps. They have many great musicians with a couple of stellar duets and audience-appealing music selections such as Spinning Wheel that was a real surprise and Cohen’s Hallelujah for the corps ballad that the Crossmen pulled off splendidly. The percussion line had a cool groove and some licks with many fun moments not seen from these guys in a while. If this steady growth continues, Crossmen may find their way back in the finals hunt quite soon.

With some well executed music, Pacific Crest brought their 2011 production titled “Push, Pull, Twist, Turn” program to Allentown. Tonight the weather may have had some effect to PC’s visual performance as the program felt flat overall. Conceptually, the program has much to love and musically the corps’ rendition of Mahler’s 5th Symphony Adagietto was beautifully performed and quite expressive. This is one of the better PC shows of past years. The weather seemed to affect the drill tonight where formations and quick maneuvers seemed incomplete at times. Still a very good program and excellent stepping stone to build on.

Jersey Surf never fails to impress the audience with powerful performances, this time despite the rain. The corps is performing their 2011 production, “Petal Tones,” with music from Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance juxtapositioned with Georges Bizet’s Toreador Song from “Carmen” that was oddly delicious as this weekend warrior-plus corps is always pushing their musical limits. Surf responded well to the rain and had a great performance with the crowd responding appreciatively. The percussion seemed to handle the wet drum heads quite well. Visually, the corps still had much to do to bring it up to the level of the musical performance, they perform the show very well, but it lacked cohesion at times and needed more of a wow factor. All in all it was an outstanding job and the young members of the corps should be quite proud of this season’s accomplishment.

The Bridgemen Alumni should be awarded a medal of performance honors as they truly got the brunt of the heavy rains that finally started to fall in earnest. They were real troopers as they continued through their program which was appreciated by the many fans who also braved the weather to watch and cheer the corps’ performance. The old gags still work as the soprano in the lawn chair couldn’t seem to find a spot in the drill. The traffic jam during 42nd Street was an especially nice nod to the New York Skyliners. It was too bad that so many people scampered out of the stadium as it made it difficult to watch your performance with so many walking out and blocking the view along the way. It was so bad that even the drum major’s scheduled retreat was cancelled and they simply announced the placements and scores when they were made available.

It should have been a real show of shows tonight with so many excellent corps vying for the top honors. It certainly added that level of uncertainty as to how everyone would have possibly placed and scored under more ideal weather conditions. My hat is off to the show volunteers and management for all their tireless work to make this show happen no matter the conditions.

Posted by on Saturday, August 20th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.