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Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix : Piece By Piece Tour
Riverbend Music Center : Cincinnati, Ohio : July 28, 2015
|Out Of The Blue
Publications Association, LLC
It was certainly a hot night in Cincinnati on Tuesday. As we drove past Sunlight Pool to Riverbend Music Center I was
jealous of the patrons frolicking in the cool water. The muggy air did deter the fans. As the opening acts Abi Ann and
Eric Hutchinson played their talented, silly, irreverent, little hearts out, the venue slowly filled, but the fans were as
sluggish as the July evening.
When Pentatonix took the stage with a deconstructed cover of "Problem," the crowd woke up. I think many, especially
those seated in the pavilion, were actually there to see Pentatonix rather than the headliner. It really is no surprise.
A recent video the group posted to YouTube, "The Evolution of Michael Jackson," is nearing 8 million views. In the
Acapella world, Pentatonix are the kings of social media, leveraging Twitter and YouTube to build a small empire.
The next song was the first they ever arranged, "Telephone." It showcased every band member’s distinct abilities and
flexibility. Avi, as bass is beyond impressive. He doesn’t get to sing lyrically on many songs, but his voice is pure sex
and the soundboard provides him additional reverb to drive that point home. (Every time he spoke between songs two
thirds of the audience swooned.) Mitch, the male soprano, showed off better chops than Mariah Carey. Every member
of the group showed the ability to rap/beatbox in addition to sing.
They followed "Telephone" with a cover of Cheerleader. Lead by Scott, the veteran front man, it was pop incarnate,
fun and flirty, almost Bobby Mcferrin-esque. The song is old school while somehow still staying fresh; featuring, as
always, rich harmonies.
In their original "Can't Sleep Love" each carried the melody at one point, even the “celloboxer” KO. The piece is
deceptively layered, as are all of their works. Yet it sounds simple and straight forward. Mitch, the youngest member
and newest addition, provided ingenious sound effects.
The highlight of the set was "Aha!" The song starts out in Latin, with a very clear tone like the best Ave Maria, by the
most fabulous church choir ever. Then it goes into fast-forward, like a syncopated roller coaster. Mitch hits an insanely
high note; it might be a high A above high C. Kirstin also flaunted her impressive range. As the lone female in the
group, she covers everything from Contralto to Soprano.
The obvious crowd favorite was the live performance of their recent YouTube hit. The lawn was pretty packed by then
and young and old alike jumped, danced, and sang along to the many hits of Michael Jackson.
Pentatonix closed their set down with an audience sing along and a Daft Punk cover to a standing ovation.
After seeing PTX receive the national recognition they deserved on the first season of The Sing-Off and then
becoming the YouTube royalty they are today, I have always been impressed by their technicality and depth of talent.
Seeing them live did not disappoint. While they have some maturing to do with their stage presence in such large
venues, the precision and passion was center stage.
Fans who were waiting for the headliner didn’t have to wait long. Kelly Clarkson took the stage 15 minutes early.
She appeared from behind two gigantic quilted mirror walls which became the back drop to her set. Kelly may have the
small town girl persona, but her stage show is decidedly big time.
Barefoot, wearing a very punk fishtail French braid, a black lace cut out tee, and a flowery red skirt, she greeted fans
with "Dance With Me." She jumped right into "My Life Would Suck Without You." She had a few vocal cracks and
squeaks, but overall sounded fantastic. You definitely knew it was her singing live. She greeted the audience, thanking
them for singing along. She complained about the heat and said we had 'Texas humidity.' She explained her rather
matronly outfit saying she was melting in the heat during the meet and greet and changed wardrobe before coming out
on stage. Over the course of the evening she commented several times that she loved how light and not hot her outfit
was, leaving one to wonder what kind of get-up she usually dons.
"Catch My Breath" showed Kelly has a truly great road band and sound technician. She had a few more vocal warbles
in this song and the next, a new song, "Nostalgic," but where a normal human’s voice might shatter on their vocal
break this is Kelly’s sweet spot. She kvetched a bit more about the humidity and heat saying she was 'sweating like a
bad girl in church' and 'standing in front of a fan like Beyonce.' After diving back in to the hit list and bringing out
"Mr. Know it All," but with a little country twang to the vocals, she prayed: 'whew, Jesus bring a cold front!'
During her piece "Second Wind" she got attacked by a bee and dropped the chorus. She explained to the audience,
as she fled upstage, that she is allergic. The bee continued to taunt her throughout the show, seemingly drawn to her
colorful skirt. At one point she asked if anyone in the audience had an epi-pen; at least she had a sense of humor
Continuing on with her new songs, "Invincible," the opening in which she channels Aretha Franklin. "Piece by Piece"
was soft and sweet. She explained it was a love song to the father of her child and also an expression of her 'daddy
issues.' She closed the song crying, saying singing it stripped down with just the piano makes it so much sadder.
She also claimed she was super emotional because her mother and sister were there.
She continued on with scaled back versions of "Because Of You" and "Breakaway." When she started in to "Tightrope"
she described it as a love song to her husband. 'I totally Taylor Swifted him – he hated it.' This was a true power ballad
showing her range and featuring that strained earthy quality Simon Cowell despised about her voice; however, her
voice is more mature and she has more control of her breathy high range. "Take You High" sounded a bit like Pink,
Bruno Mars, and Christina Aguilara. She really needed a full symphony to do the song justice.
She brought the attention waning audience back in with "Behind These Hazel Eyes," then quickly lost them again with
open mic winner Gwen Reese covering a Carrie Underwood song. The crowd was feeling the fan request of "With A
Little Help From My Friends." Then the dedication block began with the 'KC Classic' "Hear Me." dedicated to her sister
and "Stronger," dedicated to ailing juvenile fan Sienna.
From the get go when Kelly proclaimed she woke up tired, to her seeming to wilt in the heat and humidity, continuing
on with her fleeing from the bee: you got the feeling that Tuesday just wasn’t Kelly’s day. She acknowledged her vocal
issues saying she was squeaking and squealing like she was going through puberty. Her personality and stage style
are really better suited to a more intimate setting and venue. You feel like Kelly might be perfectly at home in a small
Las Vegas theater with a special guest each night, having funny, intimate conversations with her audience.
She finished the show by inviting Pentatonix back out on stage in an amazing collaboration. She saved the biggest hits
for the encore. Kelly proved that even not at the top of her game, in an environment not well suited to her while dealing
with some craziness, she has twice the talent of many of the headlining acts out the road right now. While Pentatonix
and Clarkson may not seem like a natural fit, the combination brought together a surprising cross section of music fans
that was decidedly middle of the road everything.
The Piece By Piece Tour proved to be a great show in a fantastic venue (Riverbend has really improved over the last
five years. If you’ve never been to a concert here I highly recommend it. If, like Kelly, you wilt in the heat, spring for a
pavilion seat. The giant fans make it downright comfortable, despite 90+ degrees and 80 percent humidity).
Kelly Clarkson's current tour continues through mid-September.
More Photos of Kelly Clarkson | See Photos of Pentatonix