grimmo

2019 halfway: top of the props?

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It’s the halfway point in the season, and as performance levels rise and execution begins to crystalize, but the mid-season changes are not yet all in. As a casual fan who tends to watch several corps back-to-back rather than fixate on any one corps, variety and distinction is important, which probably shows through here. I thought it might be interesting to some to put some more rambling speculation and commentary out there.

 

 

 

Bluecoats

For me this feels like the most ‘professionally’ put together show. That’s not slight on the other corps, but more around approach to sound production and musical effect that’s evident. In the modern era where variety is essential, I think its ok for one corps to push the envelope in that way, so long as others continue to push in slightly different directions.

Visually they’ve chosen a very evocative styling linked to the Beatles psychedelic era theme and this is an area where their production values excel. They use a lots of props but they aren’t over-reliant on any one prop so they retain a sense of variety and freshness across the show.

A couple of questions marks for me at this stage…with the variations in blue on the musicians costumes, some of the dark blue pops out on video and takes away from the sense of uniformity in the drill. Not sure if this is the same from the stand?

My main reservation for this show is that structurally in the last third they go from a slow piece to a jam, to a down ending. Is there enough excitement, pace and exhilaration to things through to a conclusion and take them to the very top?

 

Blue Devils

At this point, the winners in terms of prop utilization, for me. They derive some downside-up levels of cool from the wave of the backfield doors, and the unison opening and closing is an example of simple but effective (hello contras!). Later in the show the doors doubling up as ramp works well too. One fly in ointment is that after the contra entrance the more random opening of doors backfield is a distraction but assume that’s an easy tidy-up when they need to.

Programmatically this show feels like one where the brass line, particularly upper brass are being pushed in their features. Similar in this respect to 2014 (IIRC)? The ballad isn’t as catchy as the past few years but that’s probably in keeping with the theme and mood. 
I’m not sure of the value of the costume change early on, particularly as the disrobing around the ladders is inherently untidy and untheatrical?

The percussion hand-tapping feature is fun and I would imagine it will grow and refine from here.

Currently the last portion of the show is the weakest where I find engagement levels do dip, but that’s an issue I find with all of the current top 3 just now.

The strengths of prop utilization and integration will fuel strong visual effect and they always perform to the highest levels. They will be right up there in the final conversations.

 

 

SCV

If you take a large step back and observe SCV’s show, I think the standout feature is that those props aren’t as dynamic as last year. Climbing up a ladder is a - relatively - slow process. Musically this show is creative and dynamic. One might argue that it lacks the same strength of book-end melody as last year, but that said the repeating riff at the end of the second movement has become an earworm for me.

More so than the towers, I’m not sold on the value of the poles. Their movement around the field is inherently untidy and I’m not sure that the shifting of the visual frame really adds that much to the show. Personable bias maybe, but the recent addition of the tarps is questionable whether it will be a net gain once the newness subsides. For me the problem tarps pose on the football field is that for every eye-pleasing moment where tarp and forms blend well there are more where as many where it’s not easy on the eye. Will more be more or less in terms of overall effect for SCV?

That all said, the corps are executing and performing really well and there are a lot of subtle sequentials and other ensemble effects coming through now.

I’ve read some criticism of the visual this year and I wonder if part of that is because when the corps hits the full ensemble unison moment they tend to be at slower tempos? I would like to see one or two more of extended big picture transitions!

Structurally, I still have doubts the final third of the show. The percussion feature ending is quite underwhelming to the audience (from what I’ve seen)  and then the corps quickly moves into the closer which has a triumphal tone. For me it’s too abrupt and emotionally you’re not taken there. Visually the ending reminds me of Cadets 1987 with the dissolving drill into the final form. It curious that such a move still finds an equivalent place in a show so many years later!

 

 

As the season progresses I’m intrigued to see who from the top 3 can refine their endings to generate audience reaction that lifts above general-appreciation-for-the-previous-11-minutes, into something more spontaneous!

 

 

Crown

The opening portion of Crowns show is possibly the best out there this year. With the bells and chimes it harkens back to Belshazzar’s Feast!

I think it’s great for the audience and variety that a top-echelon corps are using a drill heavy visual program. There are many cool a  transitions and eye pleasing  pictures on display. To the point that while I get the role the stage plays, I’m not sure that the show would be any weaker without the smaller props.

The ballad feels to static visually to me – too much down time if that makes sense!

I’m not yet sure what I’m meant to be getting from the Beneath The Surface theme, and perhaps when measured in tenths, this could become important?

The change of mood into the close is not so distinct for me now as early season, but I’m still not sure the musical selections are bound together within the theme as cohesively as the corps around them. There’s still plenty of time though!

 

BAC

Boston deserve, and I think are, getting credit for their full-on dedication to their theme. The period look, combined with the underdog narrative, and snippets of rocky is something that it’s really easy for the audience to grab onto and enjoy the ride. Boston’s musicians possibly bob and lunge

 more than anyone this year, but that seems to be supportive of the visual approach and the oppressive legion that contrasts and showcases their top-notch guard.

There aren’t yet any singular effect moments as memorable as from the past couple of years, but there’s  time, and room to make the high points even higher.

Looking upwards it will be interesting to see if they find a way to ‘hike the stakes’ and increase the sense of jeopardy arising from Goliath, thus getting full value from the pay-off when he’s slain that should carry the show through to its conclusion.

Right now, it’s not controversial to see Boston in a battle with Crown and both with some potential to climb!

 

Cavaliers

I deliberately avoid referencing scores when offering opinions, but the one exception I will make is that it’s a surprise to me that at the halfway mark Cavies are not closer to the top than they are. I enjoy this show more than some years for Cavies, particularly around the visual style that comes through strongly this year.

Prop-wise the scaffold is a static climb-on and this is already becoming vanilla in the props-race. The timbers are evocative but timing looks to be a challenge with them.

I’m not yet sure what this show is trying to convey with the Wrong Side of the Tracks theme – how relevant is the time period (and do voiceovers fit well with this?), and is there a message or narrative thread? I’m not sure I want them to go any further into story telling. What I would like is more danger and excitement!  More exposed sequential flag throws, more risk and danger in that rife toss at the end of the opening, more reinvention of the Cavies snake for the 2019 audience. Easy to ask for, much harder to realise, I’m sure!

 

 

Cadets

It’s perhaps unfair to comment on a corps based on what they aren’t doing but I find myself underwhelmed by Cadets programming this year (note, not their performance of it). Primarily this is because,  I’d really struggle to pick it as a cadets show. Visually the  book is solid and challenging, but generic in style.  The story-telling element is not one that I associate with Cadets at their best – with the honourable exception of 2005!  The narrative drive of ‘who possesses the mace’ is straightforward enough to follow, but imo, top echelon programming needs something more. Costuming is influenced by past uniforms but I’m not convinced the deep hue will ever serve well for musicians costumes due to lack of pop.

When looking at opportunities to stand-out and innovate, I think Cadets would benefit from re-finding theirs. Hopefully these seems proves to be a step towards that.

 

BK

Personal bias will shine through again here in that I continue to enjoy this show a seeming relatively ‘unplugged/unpropped’ compared to the rest, and for DCI shows as an entertainment product that variety is important. The show is subtle but engaging. My reservation is whether the high points are high enough just now, in terms of exhilaration. I just hope they continue to develop in their current direction and look for opportunities to max out effect without tying themselves too closely to the prop-race.

 

Blue Stars

I find Blue Star’s show enjoyable. The field coverage in the visual is strong with some effective transitions and aesthetic qualities, and the music is fairly accessible too. I am continuing to struggle more with the application of the theme, which is there strongly in the costuming, and the sleds, but then seems to dip in and out in terms of relevance during the show.  For example there’s a lot of unison body work in the musicians that works against rather than with that theme for my taste and music that is conveying a variety of moods.

 The tents are a nice addition in terms of colour and framing but I’m not sure the end-zone mountain is really adding that much to the show.  Good show but wonder if stronger sense of ‘wild’ would be beneficial!

 

Mandarins

I haven’t seen much of these guys since early season, but June promised much and look forward to catching up with them again soon!

 

 

Xmen

After a couple of watches my reaction is fairly indifferent to this show. It’s highly competent drum corps design but fairly vanilla, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that this show would be an equal fit for several other corps out there as well a feeling quite similar to some other corps shows of the recent past.

 I like the contrast of the dark musicians costumes with the crimson of the guard. But the Valkyrie element isn’t necessarily adding beyond a general sense that this is a darker drum corps show.

 Is it Night On Bald Mountain that I hear snippets from in the second half of the show? Prop-wise the circular platforms work as mini-stages to give the vertical highlight without adding much beyond this. A prop must-have perhaps?

It’s clearly not Crossmen’s responsibility to bring a certain style to the field for the sake of audience variety, but personally there’s a classic Xmen style that many remember fondly.  I miss that from today’s array of shows,  and hope they find a way to bring it back to the field in a contemporary and competitive manner in the not too distant future.

 

 

 

PR

When I first heard about the Joan of Arc theme, I felt it was a bold choice to go back towards something that would naturally sit in the same ball park as Spartacus. When I heard the I Am Joan show title, I thought it would’ve been great for Velvet Knights if they’d done a 2009 show, but would it be too self-referential here?

The show itself uses the device of a costume change from dark to light to sign-post  a transformation, but for me the corps presence is stronger on the field with the musicians in black. Unfortunately the costume change is a well-used device of the years in drum corps, so for me effect reward is limited,  and I’m not sure how well the narrative really works in this show.

The intro is long and dominated by pre-record which for me does then lead to some acoustic diminishment when the instruments on the field kick-in.

Fire of Eternal Glory is a Regiment classic, and brave to bring back. For freshness it seems a smart move to split the piece in two, but the second part does not hit the spot for me (yet) feeling as though the excitement of the finale is almost throttled through the chord progressions and restrained design in the drill.

Like Cadets, there’s a temptation for me to focus on what’s not there in comparison to their tradition, but I do feel this show is a small step forward from last year, and does have plenty of room to grow this year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you for the review.  I'm glad you focused on the use of props (good and could be better).  Effective use of props will be rewarded.  If you get a chance look at Genesis.  I love how they use their props.

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