Allentown Review (2 nights) & Indy Predictions

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Once again a drum corps season is racing by all too fast. It's hard to believe we are already at championship week. We couldn't have asked for better weather in Allentown this weekend, and I had a great time with friends and 2 very good shows. This was my 5th show this year, after Ogden, Denver, Denton & San Antonio - so I thought I'd share my thoughts as we head to Indy for what should be a great weekend with some nail-biting competition at the top (which is good to see).

Allentown can be a very unforgiving venue, with the field so very far from the stands. We had seats up top, not far from the judges. At J. Birney Crum, with some of the emotion on the field lost, it's a show where everyone's faults seem magnified and only the very best can command attention and project sound and emotion up into the higher stands (a great dry-run for finals in a way). I will combine the 2 nights below, with a guess of where I think corps will place this weekend in Indy.

22nd - Pioneer. I'm sorry, guys, I had the show start time confused and missed you still at the gate. Best of luck in Indy, though!

21st - Jersey Surf. In a close call, I think Surf will finish behind Cascades. Surf's show design is a limiting factor, and the brass line, while bring some volume, seems a bit more ragged than usual. The opening moments with the Sun Goddess are interesting, and the Beach Boys music for most of the rest of the show is at least comfortably familiar. I thought Surf had a much better run than 2 weeks ago in Texas. I'm still not sold on the garish orange coats the corps starts the show with - I think it's brings the whole visual package down a level of sophistication.

20th - Seattle Cascades. As I said early in the season, it's wonderful to see Cascades out with what seems like a renewed sense of purpose. The corps is close to full size, which is fantastic after years of smaller numbers. They are obviously quite young, but the show is a very tasty, well written show for their youth and this should be a great vehicle for them to build on over the next couple of years. I very much enjoyed many musical sections of this show, and the arrangements are creative, melodic & entertaining. Too dirty musically and visually to move further up, I think they will edge Surf and should feel very proud of a year of progress!

19th - Pacific Crest. The Catalyst sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately, the execution, not so much. The big box prop just feels bush-league to me and very poorly done. You can see flags hanging out of the corners, and the red that is revealed at the end when the box splits is very obvious throughout. Also, they still seem to be really struggling to open the 2 pieces and move them smoothly at the end of the show, which is very distracting. The show would be better without the prop & theme. Musically, PC performs quite well, but the book is not particularly accessible or well written to me, though I do very much enjoy the "Enjoy the Silence" music woven into the ballad.

18th - Mandarins. Mandarins have brought a very solid corps to the field this year. I didn't think they projected their dark, powerful sound that I heard in Texas as well in Allentown. I thought the show had more pop & excitement in Texas. Will be interesting which perspective will come through in Indy. The corps marches well and has a stronger guard than the corps below them, IMO. It's great to hear an aggressive, Asian-themed show from Mandarins again, and they are having a very solid year. They also have one of the best uniforms in DCI - looking great on the field!

17th - Oregon Crusaders. OC better look out for Mandarins, but I think they can hold on to 17th. I had hoped for more from OC this year after really enjoying their "Raven" show last year, but this year seems a step back in show design. OC is one of 2 corps, along with Phantom, that to growing more narration to tell the audience what is coming next, even when it is very obvious as it moves along without it. Very annoying and does not add at all to the show when that happens. OC has a few nice musical moments, but not enough to thoroughly keep me engaged. Still, their performance levels are very respectable, and the closing moments are nice, too.

16th - Spirit of Atlanta. It's hard to put a finger on Spirit. When I first saw them in Denver, I was very impressed and thought they had more potential than they are realizing. They had a real highlight moment in early July with their ballad, that they've now seem to have tinkered with so much that it's not nearly as moving or effective now, and the climax seems shorter. The corps has an ambitious drill - perhaps a bit too much to allow the show to develop as much as it could have. Still, here are nice moments here, and some nice flags accent the show too. I also think they look great on the field in their current uniform. Hard to believe this was a solid top 12 corps for several years until last year. They have a ways to go to climb back up in terms of the quality of their programming.

15th - The Academy. Academy is another corps that is a bit of a mystery to me. I absolutely loved them in Ogden & Denver, and thought they had a real shot at Finals. There is just something missing, though, that has left them with a decent gap in front of them. They don't seem to have cleaned as much or grown as much power into their horn line as the season progressed as others near them have. Perhaps this show doesn't reach the high stands as well as Troopers, Colts, Crossmen & Blue Stars? Regardless, easily the best Academy has been in years, though. The "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious closer is pure genius and HIGHLY entertaining - one of my moments of the year. The flag for each letter was a great touch (though they had a missing member in Allentown, missing the first "e")j. Academy should be very proud of their season and the great crowd response they've elicited throughout the season. Keep pushing!

14th - Troopers. Troopers have a solid corps that performs well (Very nice horn line - top 12 caliber), but the show seems lacking just enough depth and impact to sneak into 12th. Also, while I appreciate that they are attempting live singing instead of a recording, I've heard the singer 3 times now, and while her tone is nice the pitch is off and the voice is not strong enough. There was also a major break in her signing that had the crowd gasp around me. I hope she has a great week & knocks our socks off in Indy. It's encouraging to see Troopers have another strong show that is close to Finals caliber. I can't see them moving up or down in Indy, though their strong horn line gives them an outside chance. Less musical impact and a guard that is a notch below Colts will make it a stretch, though.

13th - Colts. This show has grown on me quite a bit. Musically, I think the pieces are well arranged and performed. The ballad seems an odd fit in the rest of the show, but it's gorgeous (and well sung, live). Sylvester has designed a terrific visual program and drill, and they are marching a demanding drill pretty well. The narration is bothering me less, perhaps because I'm learning to tune out the awful dialogue. The near opening and closing sets with the corps outline are a very nice touch. Some great driving music right before the end as well. I don't think Colts are done growing yet, but it's hard to see them catching Crossmen or Blue Stars.

11/12 - Crossmen. A toss up to me between Crossmen & Blue Stars come Indy. Crossmen are enjoyable, though I think the music arrangements in places could be more straight forward and melodic. Pieces like "Someday I'll fly Away" have been done very well by others before, and when than happens, it can be too easy to over-arrange to try to be different. In many ways this is the best corps Crossmen have had in their modern renaissance, and it's good to see they upped the degree of difficulty considerably this year. Not as clean as last year's group, however (YET), as a result. The flight theme is nicely done, if a bit basic & leaving little to the imagination.

11/12 - Blue Stars. Great drill and very solid guard from Blue Stars. I think the strong guard and drum line may keep Blue Stars just in front of Crossmen, but it is very, very close. Blue Stars carry off the lower-end traveling circus very well, and they have a nice music book to complement the show. I'm looking forward to seeing them again in Indy.

10th - Boston Crusaders. I was very disappointed when I saw Boston in San Antonio. They have made remarkable progress adding impact and volume in the past 2 weeks, though. Perhaps the most improved of anyone I saw from Texas to Allentown. I still think this show could have been more than it is. The music arrangements are more subtle than they potentially could have been (especially in the first half). I get the point with the banners, but they've yet to all work right - always having alignment issues when being moved, and they limit the field for drill way too much for most of the show. Distracting last night that the last purple banner wouldn't change to Red, closest to the 50 at the end of the show. The Operatic signing is well done and interesting. Glad to hear Conquest starting to sound more like Conquest now. Boston has a fantastic color guard, and the weapons work is particularly strong. Guard must be helping their GE Visual considerably. I don't see them being caught, though it would be a huge stretch to see them move up, IMO.

9th - Cavaliers. I'm going to go out on a limb & say Cavaliers get caught by Scouts. Cavaliers have talent, but are saddled with possibly the worst show design on the field this summer compared to the caliber of their talent. One of my friends said their show was like one long run-on sentence that never goes anywhere. I'm afraid I have to agree. There is very little impact, the music book is not interesting, and the guard is invisible at times. The guard is perhaps the weakest I've seen from Cavaliers, ever (which goes back to 1988 for me). If this guard was attached to another corps not named Cavaliers, thy might not even finish in top 12 in guard. They still have a few nice drill moments, of course, but even those are not as frequent or impactful as usual. I know the corps was recently hit hard by a virus - I hope they are able to grow stronger this week and deliver a stronger show in Indy. For now, I think both Phantom & Scouts pass them next week - IF the judges will get past the Cavalier name & let them.

8th - Madison Scouts. Madison was really on fire to me last night. Another show, like Boston, that has grown a TON since San Antonio. I think this show will hold up very well over 3 viewings in Indy. Scouts have some great power, and the most demanding, impactful drill they've had in many years. The music book of classics form Stage & Screen is freshly done and more exciting than I expected. The movement back to the white pants was a great call, highlighting some nice marching and making the drill more impactful. I thought Scouts were a bit under-scored in GE Visual, and I guess the brass judge on the field heard things I could not from the top of the stands. I would have had them closer to Phantom than they were overall. I wouldn't be stunned to see them vault to 7th in Indy, but I think 8th is very much in their grasp.

7th - Phantom Regiment. Oh Phantom, where have you gone? I have been a huge Phan since the 90s and basically adopted Phantom as my favorite corps after the corps I marched folded. But the soaring, searing, and intensely melodic and passionate music I grow to love from this horn line is just not there with Don Hill. These arrangements are filled with frills that take away impact, are choppy and don't resolve in classic Phantom fashion. Drastic changes are needed. Worse, the drill is not well done, with way too much scatter and purpose-less running. All that said, Phantom has improved greatly from San Antonio, and the horn line and guard are boht solid. there are a few nice moments (this Claire De Lune version is growing on m a bit) coming into focus now and I think it will be enough to hold on to 7th. It's just sad to me, though, that in a year where there seems to be tributes to classics & innovation from Phantom in the past (Scynthian Suite from 2 corps, SCV all but doing the wedge kick out, and Crown & Cadets having music books that would have been vintage Phantom (Not to mention Crown's big banners), Phantom is losing their passionate identity. Hopefully, this season serves as a wake up call. The corps needs a new musical AND visual direction or perhaps not a new direction, but a return to their roots. Go find a new design team and bring back some dark, intense, melodic music. A year like 1993, 1996, 2003, 2004 or 2007 is desperately in order. Better yet, get your finances together, make whatever leadership changes are needed, and beg Rennick & Shaw to come back (though I can't see it happening, one could always hope). The days of the dream team with Rennick, Shaw, Thompson & Sage are fading quickly. I'm still rooting for a Finals week surge, but it's hard to see...

6th - Blue Knights. Blue Knights unquestionably had my show of the year - of the last several years - last summer. I was afraid they would struggle to match it this year, and I fear I was right. This show is far drier, and takes almost 1/2 the show to really get going. Still, there are many things to like. The performance levels are stellar, particularly in the horn line & guard, and the GE Visual is strong. The mirrors make for an unexpectedly nice effect, with the corps able to "disappear" and the guard to bring out flags seemingly out of nowhere in very effective ways. Musically, the show improves in the 2nd half in terms of impact and accessibility, and has some nice haunting moments. There is nothing that really drives visceral reactions like last year, and the show is pretty abstract. Still, this show sticks with you and this is a worthy top 6 corps. While a surging Regiment may close the gap (few corps surge during finals week like Regiment), I think they have too many flaws to catch them - thanks to what their design team gave them.

5th - Santa Clara Vanguard. I am honestly having a hard time with Vanguard in 5th. I love this show! I want it to place higher, but I'm coming to grips with the fact it likely won't. The horn line is the weakest of the top 5 (Was JD just a better fit at Regiment???), and the music book is good, but not great. Also, while I love many moments in this drill, it is so dense as to lose impact and perhaps is harder to clean. On the plus side, the guard is STELLAR, and the drum line is what you would expect from a Rennick line - very, very good. The lights added at the end on the uniforms, flag poles & props are a very nice touch to cap off the show. One of my favorite shows this year, but I just don't see Vanguard moving up or down in Indy.

4th - Bluecoats. I'm a bit surprised Bluecoats aren't closer to SCV and a bit further from the near dead heat with Crown, BD & Cadets. However, Bluecoats are incredibly talented, with just fantastic brass and drum lines. Design-wise, this show just can't compare to last year for me, though. Last year had heavy use of electronics, but in complimentary ways. This year, the electronics overwhelm at times. Why, when your horn line is so fantastic? I just am not seeing what the judges are GE-wise, as I think the top 3 all are stronger visually and musically in effect to me. Visually, I think the props are far more work than the effect they produce. All of this said, this show has grown on me each time I see it. Bluecoats are very, very good and a threat to move up if anyone above them is off. It's hard to see the electronic gimmicks holding up well over 3 straight days in Indy to me. That said, it's hard to count out a corps scoring so well in GE, so who knows?

THE TOP 3 - Unbelievably tight at the top this year. Who will separate a little and hold up well upon 3 straight nights in Indy? Below is my guess, but I couldn't complain if any of the 3 steps up & takes it.

3rd - Cadets. I have mixed feelings on the new black uniforms. In a show that is a bit dry in many places, one of the highlights is that stellar Cadets drill, marching & feet - and you just erased that impact that came with that with white pants & shoes. That can't be helping their visual GE at all. I think it's a mistake, but at the same time, the integrated color scheme with the new unis, guard unis & silks is very, very tasty. This is a corps with incredible performance levels (including a BRILLIANT horn line), but needing more impacts (apart from the mind-blowing ending). If they can find a way to add more impact this week, they are dangerous indeed. The closing drill & music is thrilling, if still dirty. If that closing drill can be truly cleaned, look out! Guard may hold them back from that top spot, but again, Cadets always close well that last week, too. I'd have no complaints about a Cadets win - or being in 3rd.

2nd - Blue Devils. What an entertaining & creative show from BD! By the way, do they sneak in every letter of the alphabet in some creative way in the drill? So many amazing touches in the drill & visual program. Musically, the corps is lights out as always. Very accessible and entertaining music book, and I even love the k-pop section - which they sell very well. I love this show! One surprise from up top in Allentown, BD still has a lot of dirt to clean visually. Perhaps they most drill they've marched in years (though they had quite a bit last year, too), but some serious cleaning of files & lines still is needed. IF they clean that up, 1st is definitely in their reach, too.

1st - Carolina Crown. I know they didn't go head to head with BD this weekend, and BD beat them on Thursday, but Crown was on fire Saturday night in Allentown. Let me be clear - I haven't been a huge fan Crown in several of their recent years, so I'm not one of the rose colored glasses Crown homers. This show has had amazing growth through the season. The horn line is fantastic, and the music book is perfectly suited for theme, with dark intense music (not to harp, but OH, PHANTOM? Do you remember when this could all be said about you???). The uniform with the swirling red on one leg is used to great effect in the drill as well. I'm not sure what some detractors are talking about regarding a lack of drill. Crown has a lot of demanding drill and march it well. The enormous banners are so very dramatic & effective as well. The new, huge closing gold banner is much better at bringing the corps back out of "hell" without the end seeming so disconnected, and the forming of the "Crown" while under the banner was a brilliant move with the type of impact that can elevate a champion (did they unveil it too early, though?). I love this show - as much as I've loved Crown since Triple Crown, though Finis & Grass is Greener are close. Can't wait to enjoy it 3 more times. And wow, the guard is fantastic, too. Like BD, so much to see in this show - and that depth is what I think both have over Cadets.

So there are my long- winded thoughts. I could be all wrong, of course, come Indy, which is what makes this activity (and Finals week) so fun!


Edited by TexasPRfan
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Nicely done!

You look at corps with greater performance insight than I do. Appreciate the opportunity to compare your observations with my own. I will add a couple basic thoughts, having only viewed the event on DCI Live.

Yes, the Allentown sideline set-back issue has changed-up a few emotions from the early days. I will begin learning more about improving this and will speak with others who are in position to make a difference.

I've known about and watched Mandarins for many years. With this year's effort, I will be giving them greater attention. This is a annual Finalist corps in-the- making.

Yes, Colts have wonderful talent buried inside all that. Still, the show is growing on me, too. I look forward to viewing it again, for sure.

I think Boston comes off looking like a corps who is scoring 5-10 points higher. They look and sound like a beast on TV. All those banners are a wonderful addition, I think. They are noticeably taking command of that show. I find this addition of Crusaders very exciting. The singer is terrific and has great presence and attitude out there.

Phantom Regiment is really blossoming on schedule to my eyes and ears. Gorgeous looking corps! I think they are on the right track, and DO understand the missing heavyweight persona of prior years. That uber, deep coloring in brass is missed.

As I like to point out, these productions are a much different animal with multi-cam, close-ups, etc. Just can't respond to them the same way.

Anxious to hear from you again!

Edited by Fred Windish
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Ok, I finished the review now, and thanks for your comments, Fred!

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