Last Friday night, as I sat in the very front row of folding chairs in Rangos and stared at the imposing "#VERTIGO" projected on the curtain, I quite frankly wasn’t sure what to expect. I'd never been to an a cappella performance in my entire life, and I’m a die-hard classic rock fan. Needless to say, I was a little apprehensive about my ability to sit through two hours of enthusiastic harmonizing.
Boy, oh boy, were those fears misplaced.
As soon as the Originals, Carnegie Mellon’s all-male a cappella powerhouse, burst onto the stage to cheers and screams from the audience, the energy in the room became palpable. As The Originals slid smoothly into a sugary, slick rendition of “Levels” by Nick Jonas, I suddenly understood the electricity that had been steadily building since I’d taken my seat. The group’s voices cyclically diverged and converged, swelling together at times to hit chill-inducing notes and fanning out at others to create funky twists on Jonas’s pop classic.
With my apprehensions swiftly obliterated by the first song, I spent the remainder of Vertigo rooted to my chair, unwilling to peel my eyes and ears away from the spectacle for even a second. The Originals transitioned into a soulful power-ballad named, “I Still Care,” followed by a delicate and poignant performance of Bianca Ryan’s “Alice.” Next, the group jumped with gusto into Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum,” a sexy, jazzy number that the crowd went wild for. Finally, to cap off the night, The Originals gave us a final hit of what they do best with Demi Lovato's “Stone Cold,” an intoxicating display of raw emotion. The group finished their set with a plug for their new EP, “VOID,” which dropped the same day as Vertigo.
Next, the stage was turned over to Voices in Your Head, a coed a cappella troupe from the University of Chicago. The members filed onstage wearing spiffy black suits and cocktail dresses, combined with a rainbow of colored leggings and ties for a business-formal-with-a-twist aesthetic. As they launched into their first song, I was struck by the incredible vocal range of the group. Their songs were often stripped-down and slower-paced, with interweaving harmonies and precise background beats that elevated their performance. As they sang, I simply sat and let their smooth voices wash over me, awed by both their technical precision and their clear camaraderie as a team.
Voices in Your Head was followed by University of Maryland’s premier coed a cappella group, Faux Paz, who gave a wonderfully passionate and sleek performance, comprised mostly of vamped-up pop hits. Members strutted across the stage in self-assured synchrony, and soloists poured their heart into each note. They had alluring confidence, hair-raisingly tight harmonies and beats, and a dedication to the drama of their performance that evoked a Broadway show. One of the best moments of the night came when one of Faux Paz’s soloists took on “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine, bringing the house down with stunning vocal gymnastics and incredible finesse.
Faux Paz was succeeded by Lark, an all-female a cappella group from the University of Colorado. Having been introduced by The Originals as, “a group that redefined a cappella,” I immediately understood why as soon as the troupe walked out onstage. They were dressed in '50s-era vintage dresses and suits, but each member brought an edgy twist to the look that made it more badass than demure. A wide berth was given to bubblegum pop fare, with the group instead ranging from Sylvan Esso’s layered, kaleidoscopic “Hey Mami” to “Mad Hatter” by Melanie Martinez. This last song was performed to perfection, with creepy, doll-like choreography, sick beatboxing, and theatrical, echoing vocals.
After Lark’s departure, we all enthusiastically clung to the appearance of the night’s final a cappella group, The Nor’easters, unwilling to acknowledge that Vertigo would be ending soon. Traveling all the way from Northeastern University in Boston, The Nor’easters’ reputation had preceded them. However, they far exceeded the hype, effortlessly combining silky harmonies and swelling, passionate solos delivered with razor-sharp vocal precision. The large group, dressed in all black and cloaked in confidence, moved as one through recent EDM-pop fusion hits such as Bieber’s “Sorry,” much to the delight of the audience. Ending the night with Sam Smith’s swelling, operatic Bond theme, “Writing’s on the Wall,” the Nor’easters gave the crowd more chills than the November weather ever could.
After attending a concert, I’d normally say I could feel the beat in my body – but after Vertigo, I felt the beat-boxing in my bones instead. Every member of the crowd was brought together in awe of the sheer vocal power displayed, and we were all emotionally moved by Vertigo to a degree we hadn’t anticipated. As one member of Faux Paz put it while reflecting on America’s divisive political climate, “Music is a way that all of us can connect and heal,” and Vertigo was a perfect example of just that.