2017 Drums Along the Waterfront (Buffalo, NY) Review

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This past weekend was just incredible. So happy I finally got to see lots of great shows!

Before I begin, let me just say it was cool to experience a couple of rehearsals in the weekend leading up to the show. Blue Stars and Cadets definitely gave me a good preview of what we would see later on.

Unlike in the past, in which the whole family came to experience this event, my dad and I only came to the show. We used the Big Tree Road entrance for the second year in a row, which proved once again to be incredibly fast and convenient. A local group by the name of DownBeat Percussion was playing outside of the stadium, near all the marketplace booths. Unfortunately, no Prime Time Brass (a New Orleans-style brass band comprised of local drum corps alumni that always played on the field before the show began) this year.

The Canadian national anthem by a local high school student, followed by the American national anthem performed by the Cadets choir, then a special presentation to a local USMC veteran, and finally SHOWTIME!

Blue Stars - Star Crossed (8th, 86.700)

Let's get the big thing that everyone's been talking about out of the way - the hornline! They were absolutely fantastic last night, high brass especially! And the colorguard was fantastic, too, some great moments for them to shine throughout. As for the show itself, it was stronger than the last time I saw them live (Sideshow in 2015) but I still found myself not liking the immense reliance on samples. I totally understand it, as it brings the show to life, but there's a certain point where sometimes I just want to hear the music and not focus on the dialogue. There was one time in the show - the Lady Marmalade drum break - where the volume on that sample was way too low. Regardless, fantastic corps that is on the rise late in the season. My dad enjoyed how creative the program was. Perhaps we'll see a repeat of 2014?

Blue Knights - i (6th, 88.150)

I've said it before, but while DCI may be in 2017, the Blue Knights have a show design from 3017. So glad I got to hear them live for the first time in nearly a decade. Brass and percussion were just fantastic. Guard has improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. I enjoyed their use of color a lot; I thought it was stunning on the video, but it's even more stunning live. The electronic effects were amazing as well. My only beef with this show, and maybe it's because they added it pretty recently, is the narration. It was cool in the pre-show and the Schwantner since there was so little of it, which allowed the music to stand out. But the narration in the Bjork post-snare solo was just too much for me. Otherwise, great! Unlike some years, both Blue Knights and Blue Stars fit right in with the rest of the TOC corps in several ways.

The Cadets - The Faithful, The Fallen, The Forgiven (5th, 89.975)

OK, let's get the good stuff out of the way: Great percussion section. Best guard from them in a few years. Great closer, LOVED the big flags, that's one common element from '90s drum corps that should really be brought back in a big way. Now on to the nitty-gritty. The choir, while they all sounded good, sang way too much. I really wanted to get a good read on the brass as this is their first year post-Gino, but the choir got in the way far too many times. Show design was the polar opposite of Awakening: instead of having too little impact on me, this show contained way too much impact for my liking; it reminded me of the 2014 show. The "Can I get an Amen" voiceover was just tacky, perhaps the tackiest transition of the year. Did I mention too many uniform changes? Seriously, they should have stuck to just the second uniform, added a shako, and let the guard be the ones that change throughout. I'm very sorry, Cadets members, I love you, but your show design was my least favorite of the night. (By the way, to the member who tripped over the pew just before Agnus Dei, NICE recovery!)

Phantom Regiment - Phantasm (7th, 87.325)

Coming into this show, based on recent comments, I was thinking we would be in for another napfest like the past four seasons. BOY was I wrong! They were a major surprise for me. What started out as a rough, young group has come a long, long, LONG way and performed their hearts out tonight. It certainly isn't their best brass ever, but they did very good. Percussion writing had some of the tastiest stuff they've played in the post-Rennick era. And the Phantomettes... where do I begin? They stole the show tonight, despite what the scores say. The design is so much better than anything that has come out in the past 3 seasons from them, especially visually. I expected myself to be annoyed by the seductive woman's voice, but in the end I thought it worked for what they were trying to portray, which is an obsession with something imaginary. Crowd reaction to the show was the best for a PR show that has come to Buffalo in several years. My dad loved it; we both agreed that it was our favorite pre-INT corps of the night. I think my mom, who is always a big fan of the dark and creepy, would have enjoyed it as well. I enjoyed it so much I got one of their bluish-gray T-shirts with the logo and helmet on it during INT!

Carolina Crown - It is... (3rd, 94.575)

Gonna start with the good stuff again: HOLY HORNLINE!!! Percussion has improved so, so much since Hannum joined. Despite what everyone says, the guard was enjoyable and had a good run. Vocalist blend with the rest of the ensemble was much better than anticipated. First half of the show was fantastic. Onto the not-so-good: Design left me confused much of the time. I get that it's about deconstructivism, but instead of deconstructing the field, they turned it into a mess, which disappointed me. The new tag ending was no help either. And the entire second half was focused on the vocalist, which had to be excruciating for the hornline, especially when they have to be the backup band at the climax of the ballad. But the worst offense of all was the Crown fans sitting directly behind me. Their cheers were as loud as the hornline and SUPER annoying at the worst times. Anywho, I bet they'll hold 3rd through all of Championships.

Santa Clara Vanguard - Ouroboros (2nd, 95.275)

WHOA. I thought this was a great show whenever I saw it on video, but HOLY MACKEREL was this an experience live! The small ensemble blended super well with everyone else. Those props are just so imaginative and are perhaps the most effective use of props of any corps this year. Percussion was just on another level from everyone else. Guard has improved from recent seasons as well. Their ballad is my favorite of the year. No complaints whatsoever with this show - it lived up to all my expectations and then some! I hope they win Gold, but Silver wouldn't be too shabby either; it would be their first medal since 2004 and first Silver since 1998. That's a LONG time considering their storied history!

By the way, SCV's brass did the encore and it was a spiritual blessing to be able to hear Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, The Canyon, and Send in the Clowns live and in person! It was just classy and beautiful.

Bluecoats - Jagged Line (4th, 93.725)

WHOA once again! I've underestimated this show all season as light entertainment when it really isn't at all; this is ELECTRIC! Just amazing music overall. Prelude gave me chills; Psychopomp was fun, fun, fun. Grow Till Tall exceeded my expectations live; it too gave me chills. And then there's Zomby Woof/Psychopomp reprise, my favorite closer of the year; it's just plain kick-###! Seamless electronics integration throughout the show as well. There also had the funniest moments of the night: Nearly taking out two field judges at the end of Psychopomp; the Michigan J. Frog-esque choreography in the drum break; the trombone hat mutes; a member fanning himself while a screamer plays. It's one of those shows that you just can't help but love, no matter where it places.

Blue Devils - Metamorph (1st, 95.900)

WHOA a third staight time! From the moment they stepped on the field to the moment they exited, they absolutely owned the field. How you can hate the corps this year is simply beyond me. The opening minute was just so TIGHT. Flight of the Bumblebee, while watered down from before, was absolutely insane. Everything Must Change had some of the best soloists I have ever heard in the activity, and my dad thought the same. Trumpet and trombone features were out of this world good. And the show ended with my favorite voiceover of the night - "The Concord Blue Devils!" As much as I'm always looking for someone else to win, I don't think this is the year. A BD win would indeed be well deserved!

Here are my rankings in terns of general enjoyment:

1. Blue Devils/Bluecoats/SCV

4. PR

5. BK/Crown

7. Blue Stars

8. Cadets

And now for some general comments on the show tonight:

  • Uniforms. I don't mind show-specific looks, but when it means you're taking away something that is and has been part of your identity for a long time, I don't think it should happen unless your style absolutely demands it.
  • Synth bass/subwoofers. I'm not sure if I've just not noticed it until this year, but I am not liking the use of synth bass and subwoofers this year. Synth bass while the tubas are playing is one thing (only one corps didn't really use it much), but when I can hear subwoofers when the tubas aren't playing, that's just really annoying. Subwoofer noises are for rock concerts and club DJs, not the marching arts. Also, one corps in particular had the electronics WAY too high up for my liking (I won't say which).
  • Shotgun mics. Just... no. In the past, BD used to be the loudest corps on the field because they were the only corps that used them. Now, all four of the Top 4 corps (plus Phantom Regiment) use them, and each corps sounds exactly the same volume. This is something that needs to be addressed in the Rules Congress this offseason.
  • In general, I hope there will be some conservative changes brought to this activity next season. I'm hoping for some more traditional uniforms, less reliance on electronics, and perhaps some judging sheet changes that add clarity to the ability to judge today's shows.

That's all! Thanks for reading!

Edited by Cadevilina Crown
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Awesome review!  Thank you so much for sharing.  I'm 100% on board with your closing thoughts as well.  Those issues have gotten out of hand.


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