Vertigo, the highly anticipated fall a cappella concert, returned to Rangos Ballroom this past Saturday, Oct. 13. Hosted by Carnegie Mellon’s renowned a capella group, The Originals, the event showcased the talents of five collegiate a cappella groups: The Nor’easters from Northeastern University, the Boston University Treblemakers, the GW Vibes from George Washington University, Gestalt from the University of Florida, and of course, the Originals from Carnegie Mellon University.
After the success of Vertigo last year, it was no surprise that the show sold out by early afternoon. Starting at 7, I was fortunate enough to know to come early to get a good seat, as there was already a line forming outside the ballroom half an hour before the show started.
Once everyone was settled in, the Originals kicked off the show with “Judas” by Lady Gaga. The lead singer commanded the stage and the rest of the all-male group followed his lead. The soloist’s voice was perfect for the song, managing to hit all the notes and incorporating strong personality into everything he did. However, the energy fizzled out a bit when it got to the duet between the vocal percussionists. Not that the beat-boxing was bad by any means, but there was not much variety in their performance.
Next up was University of Florida’s co-ed Gestalt, hoping to "break the mold of contemporary a cappella." They started strong with a haunting and ethereal harmony that led into Calvin Harris’ “Pray to God” featuring Haim. The lead vocalist had a powerful and unique voice, but when trying to share the spotlight with the other female singers, it became overwhelming, and not in a good way. While they all were extremely talented, they did not always have good control of their volume and they ended up singing over each other several times. They proceeded with “Mother” by Florence + the Machine. The male lead had a very deep, soothing voice, but for the most part, they allowed the female singers to take center stage again. Although there were a few times where I felt the vocals overlapped again, it was still a strong performance and they continued to excel with well-structured choreography. Gestalt continued with three more songs: “Selah” by Emeli Sandé, which showed their incredible vocal range and more successfully balanced the light and heavy moments; “Trainwreck” by Banks, which they do not normally perform live but displayed their widest vocal ranges; and “Feel” by Bombay Bicycle Club, which had a nice echo effect and continued their theme of rather haunting-sounding vocals. The last of these was probably their best vocal performance of the night, but definitely had the most obscure choreography. Overall though, Gestalt proved they had talent despite being a group only formed two years ago.
Following Gestalt was GW Vibes from George Washington University. Starting with Michael Jackson’s iconic “Rock with You,” I could instantly tell the group was having a good time as the lead vocalist bopped around on the stage. While her singing wasn’t the greatest, she definitely was upbeat and kept the mood light and fun before the following performance that took on more serious tones. The group tackled themes of mental health and depression in a melancholy but beautiful mashup of Jon Bellion’s “Guillotine” and Logic’s “1-800-273-8255.” After this, they closed with a solid performance of Brayton Bowman’s “FEEL YOU.”
After a brief intermission, Northeastern University’s Nor’easters brought the audience back into the show with an accurate arrangement of Dua Lipa’s hit song, “New Rules.” Then they debuted their arrangement of Troye Sivan’s “Plum,” which I controversially enjoyed a bit more than the original despite being a fan of Sivan’s music. It seemed more natural an approach for the lyrics compared to Sivan’s more upbeat version. Next was Rosie Lowe’s “Who’s That Girl?” that included superb synchronized choreography, and interesting clapping and breathing patterns that added a unique effect to the whole vibe of the song. The females took over for this song, but there was a good vocal balance so that they complemented each other instead of overpowering one another. Last was a poignant and mesmerizing rendition of MUNA’s “I Got a Place.”
The penultimate group that took the stage was Boston University’s Treblemakers. Starting strong, they began with “How Long” by Charlie Puth. Arranged as a duet rather than a solo, it really amplified the emotions of the piece, although the two vocalists were better when their parts were separate rather than harmonizing. Their next two songs, Sam Smith’s “Him” and Jorja Smith’s “So Lonely,” were equally emotional and pure, with strong vocals from their respective leads. Closing with “Keeping Your Head Up” by Birdy, they ended formidably with a vocalist that could hit all the notes, even when they went extremely high or when she had to compete with her loud groupmates’ backing vocals.
To finish the night, the Originals took the stage once more. Unfortunately, they had a problem with one of the mics in the first set, but, per the audience’s approval, they were granted another chance to perform “Judas.” This second run did not disappoint. The lead once again commanded the stage, but was even more energetic and added even more dramatic flair than before with his dance moves. They definitely took the extra opportunity and ran with it. Not only was the singing and backing vocals stronger, but the group overall was more energetic and was visually enjoying themselves more. To top it off, there was an extreme difference in the additional mic during the duet, the effects much more diverse and dynamic.
After their redo of “Judas,” they performed Daniel Caesar’s “Won’t Live Here,” which continued all the groups’ trends of having at least one song with gorgeously haunting vocals. In addition to the emotional and raw singing though, the Originals stepped up their game when it came to choreography as well. I honestly felt like I was being hypnotized, even when they were doing something as simple as swaying on stage.
Last, but certainly not least, the Originals took on a challenge with Panic! At the Disco’s “Death of a Bachelor.” With the strongest choreography and posing of the night from the very start of the song, I was excited to see what they had in store for the finale. While I thought the lead was a bit pitchy during the chorus, overall he took on Brendon Urie’s vocals with grace and poise.
In the end, Vertigo was a massive success once more, bringing together a cappella groups from across the country to thrill audiences.