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I marched four years and was staff for another six years. I didn't take notes this time so I give you my thoughts based on memory.

The Rose Bowl has had its share of criticism for being not a great drum corps venue when championships were hosted there. Well, based on the size of the crowd, their reaction, and the post-show reactions of the performers on Facebook, the Rose Bowl is a fantastic venue. This show has been hosted at community college stadiums in prior years and last year, it was very apparent this show has outgrown these stadiums (especially if non-California corps show up). Fans were sitting in the backstands! So Cal fans and performers deserve a venue that can match Stanford stadium.

OPEN CLASS

Incognito

Last year, I railed against this corps' staff for grossly underpreparing these kids for competition. I'm glad to say they've improved. They’re still playing music that doesn’t quite match the limited instrumentation of the brass (Holst’s Mars and Jupiter), but their musical and visual achievement is progressing.

Watchmen

“New” old uniforms are a good look for the Watchmen. They may be BD’s uniforms from 2004. They were a new corps last year and they looked promising back then. I’m not quite sure if they’ve progressed in their sophomore year. I can’t remember much of the show. They just got to get comfortable and perform better so there’s some emotional effect. Getting a corps off the ground is really tough, so best of luck to them.

Golden Empire

Another corps in their sophomore year and they were a big surprise last year. Literally big. They’re quite sizable for a young Open Class corps and their show design is very well put together. It’s a show revolving a diamond heist and Pink Panther is a recurring theme. The drill and staging are very strong elements. The music is fun and the show as a whole is very good package.

Impulse

Unfortunate to say, the corps looked smaller than in past years. When they’re robust, this corps can be a crowd pleasing Open Class corps. But this year, the brass and guard membership is a bit thin. The drumline was strong and got a lot of the effect. I hope they can regain some robustness soon.

Gold

First, I really appreciate the vision of this corps’ design staff. It’s definitely different and intriguing. The show is called Pop Star and the pit is set up in the middle of the field. The pit features a platform holding a drum set and two electric guitar players. There are three “factions” of brass dressed in varying black and white costumes that create good visual contrast. The guard are in costumes that some may deem...uh...scant. Britney Spear’s Toxic is a musical motif throughout the show. All of it is consistent with the Pop Star theme. What’s holding the corps back is achievement and ensemble balance issues. Among other people that attended with me, we all agreed the amps in the pit were overpowering the brass and there were a lot of horizontal and vertical musical alignment problems in the 2nd half of the show (fancy talk for musical “tears” and “phasing”). If the corps can smooth out these issues, there’s no reason this show can’t succeed in entertaining the audience.

WORLD CLASS

Mandarins

It’s the Year of the Props in World Class. Mandarins started the World Class competition by wheeling out several giant drums, but they were simply two dimensional props that resembled drums. They also had many Terracotta Army-like props lined up on the back sideline.The performance was solid and entertaining. In fact, all the World Class corps that night were entertaining to some extent. No real disappointments. The drum props do move around the field, but it’s never clear why they needed to move them other than for the sake of making their stage design a little more challenging and varying.

The Academy

Really strong design and communication of their show, which is basically a Mary Poppins show. The audience got this right from the first moments of the show and to the very end. The props were chimney tops and used very effectively for staging and featuring soloists. There’s a moment in the middle of the show where the guard pretends to tap dance on the props while the tapping sounds came from pit members playing on a floorboard. I thought there was musical tear here and it felt uneasy. Other than that, the performance was solid musically. Visually not as a precise as Mandarins and Pacific Crest, but I’m sure they’ll catch up. In terms of long-term thinking, I’m not sure if this show has the legs to get them into Saturday night unless there’s some rewrites and additions to the show to make it clearly above their closest competitors (like Troopers, Colts, and so on). The brass staging seems a bit conservative, which benefits the music ensemble, but not boost their visual effect scores.

Blue Knights

Wow. I was blown away by BK. They’re avant garde, but not in an alienating way. The music builds up and goes into overdrive. Brass performance is phenomenal (brass beat Phantom that night). Choreography is abundant and effective as always. I was unsure about their new uniforms last year, but they’re visually stunning with the drill and choreo. Design is a strong balance of avant garde and “meat and potatoes” drum corps. The show was unfinished and I was unsurprised by this. There was so more choreo and I’m sure they spent a lot of time learning it. Good stuff. Oh yeah, lots of semi-circle mirror props around the field.

Pacific Crest

I’m an alumni and I’m happy about how this corps progresses every year in their design and performance. Their new uniforms are beautiful and the guard pops out better this season. The guard staging is integrated really well this season. There’s a “catalyst” prop that the show is centered around, but it’s unfinished. So that’s holding back their effect and emotional impact of the show. There are moments when the corps interacts with catalyst and there are sound effects coming from the amps. But the catalyst was essentially just a metal frame and naked. So no visual cue to go along with the sound effects and musical build-up. There are some beautiful moments in the show, but the brass could do a better job of sustaining those moments. The sound projection wasn’t quite there Saturday night. The show design is there and it progresses from aggressive and dark to enlightening and angelic. Once the corps improves, this show should get a lot of crowd reaction.

Phantom Regiment

I’ve read several underwhelming reviews of Phantom, but I loved them! It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s solid “meat and potatoes” drum corps. The played well, the guard is beautiful, tubas had a feature, and the wedge. All the Phantom hallmarks. But this is not to say they’re stuck in the early 2000s. There were good integration of synths and electronics in the “An American in Paris” percussion break. Yeah, electronics in “American in Paris.” That was a different treat for the ears. Very tasteful and effective. The weakest part of the show, musically and visually, is Clair de Lune. It’s hard to top 2008 Carolina Crown on this one. Phantom’s brass staging is extremely conservative on this piece and they stay close together on the field for most of the piece (in contrast to Crown’s spread on the field, which blanketed the stadium in sound and win challenge points for keeping the sound together). Plus, Phantom’s brass had some issues maintaining balance and breath control. The guard has some moments, but the piece has nothing visually engaging at the end. So I hope this part gets reworked. Also, they were the only WC corps whose show didn’t rely on props. That’s quite avant garde these days.

Blue Devils

I tried. I really tried to keep an open mind. But….they….are……....so….spread….out…on...the…...field...that…..I….don’t….know..what….to look…….at. Musically, this show is accessible. Familiar themes and melody. And of course, best talent on the field in DCI. They perform their butts off and they sound amazing. They win for most beautiful moments and sounds. When you’re not distracted by the scattering of their amazing guard on the field, the brass actually has a lot of fantastic, flowing drill moves. But again, there’s a million things going at once on the field. It’s like a 3 ring circus, but with 6 or 9 rings. And yes, the Kpop feature makes absolutely no sense. Even the BD-friendly crowd was less enthusiastic at the end of that. That says a lot. Compared to last season at this point, this BD was a little less precise visually. I noticed a lot more missed spots and uneven lines. My bet is they won’t match their historic run last year, but hey, I’ve been wrong before.

Santa Clara Vanguard

I want to say they haven’t been this strong and solid this early in quite a while. They move well and play very well. They project their sound in an aggressive way that reminds me of their sound during the late ‘90s and that’s good. There was also a beautiful moment when a small brass ensemble do a fugue on amped mics and a reverb effect created a sound that was futuristic. Pretty effective. I’m not sold on the Tesla coil props. They’re so big and fat, they draw your eyes away from the guard work and drill, but they’re not really used for anything either. If they’re meant to create an atmosphere of spark and invention, it’s over-the-top. The closer in all areas were a letdown. The music was aggressive, percussive, and dark, and to me, it wasn’t different enough from the rest of the show. I would’ve expected a more uplifting piece to invoke optimism and hope for a better future (inventions are suppose to move society forward, right?). Lastly, the drill impacts in the closer were classic Cavalier style drill with the symmetrical small line rotations and follow-the-leader that resolve into an ensemble hold set (drill designer Pete Weber was a former Cavaliers drum major). It was like watching Cavalier’s “Spin Cycle” show. I was thinking, “Ok, I know how this set is going look like 10 moves from now. No surprise.” For a storied corps with tons of tradition, it would be nice to see something that isn’t a direct lift of another corps.

Other takeaways:

Last year, I ranted about amps, synths, and electronics. Well, I’m more sold after what I heard at the Rose Bowl with one caveat. I sat high up and on the 50 yard line. I could hear the judges above me. I was in prime seating position to hear the better, more creative, and tasteful integration of amps, synths, and electronics. I’m still concern about how all of this is heard for audiences outside of the sweet spot on the 50 yard line. Sitting in the upper deck at Lucas Oil around the 30 yard line a few years ago made me a huge pessimist about amped sounds because I didn’t hear any of it and if shows are increasingly relying on amped sounds for effect, corps are failing to reach paying fans. That’s not fair to fans and the hard-working performers if shows are literally reaching only to the judges and VIP audiences.

And bring back G bugles.

Edited by wonderbread403
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Great review

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