Ben Stevens, CSOM ‘17, steps in front of the mic. A regiment of desk lamps rest in the first row and Christmas lights are threaded along the chalkboard. Stevens hits the first, quivering, familiar note of Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One.” He descends into an eerie performance of the Grammy winner’s hit, backed by The Bostonians behind him and the homey mood lighting.
This is not the first time the Juice vocalist has been compared to Sam Smith, and it’d be disingenuous, criminal to not acknowledge it. Believe it or not, The Bostonian’s “Not the Only One” was better than the one you’ve heard on the radio. It helps that Steven’s voice doesn’t drip with the same melodramatic whine as Smith’s. Instead, it’s some offspring of Smith and John Legend.
The Bostonians build their arrangements around the soloists. It was the group of well-dressed vocalists that continually propped up the soloist allowing he or she to entrance the crowds.
When The Bostonian’s Spring Cafe was at its best, the melodies of its members lifting an outstanding soloist into the hearts of a packed McGuinn 121. The auditorium was as packed as the first day of class and corresponding midterms and finals. The first few steps of the stairs were claimed in a rush as the first set wet its lips. The Spring Cafe differed from the typical a cappella show. It was just one group, and it was long. The show featured 19 arrangements split into two sets. It was the group flexing its muscles—vocal chords.
Sam Park, A&S ’16, led the crowd through a medley of Frank Ocean hits. Park did Ocean justice. Ocean’s voice typically balances on the edge of the knife, and Park naturally matched the R&B figure but with a deeper timber. The arrangement seamlessly moved though “Bad Religion,” “Super Rich Kids,” and “Thinkin Bout You.”
The next performance moved us from relatively contemporary R&B to classic Billy Joel. Liam Maguire, A&S ’17, felt more than comfortable at the front of the lecture hall turned concert venue and probably would have felt at home grooving with Cole Porter. Guy Guenthner, A&S ’17, followed. Guenthner either did some sort of meta a cappella performance—nodding to applauding crowd members, giving a shout out to his Walsh room, singing The Head in the Heart’s “Lost in my Mind” like a gentle show tune—or is just generally affable performer.
The Cafe featured three musical “interludes.” The majority of the group would recede to the side as a simple arrangement with (gasp) instrumental; music. For the first two, Paul Wagonseller, A&S ’16, accompanied Michael Scully, A&S ‘15, on piano then an adorable duet from Maguire and Chloe Mansour, LSE ’17, on ukulele. The final interlude featured Park on acoustic guitar with Keely Batram, A&S ’16, who has the voice of 1,000 men. Batram’s voice winding around the chords of the guitar drew as many ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd as their a cappella sets.
Batram also led off the second set with Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water.” She added a bit of a twang for good measure. Cailin Cowley, A&S ’17, followed with a quiet rendition of “Say Anything” later in the second set. It built to a cool moment when Cowley was joined by the group on the final chorus.
Kelsey Woo and Sammi Middleton, both A&S ’15, performed near the end of the first set, but their performances essentially were the show’s climax. First Woo with Jessica Ware’s “Say You Love Me” and then Middleton’s with “Jealous” by Labrinth. When a cappella shows are great, as previously stated, they do renditions of songs that sound eerily familiar to songs we know. They do the hits, and you can’t lose doing hits from Sam Smith. But a cappella shows are best when they take a song that is marginal and bring it to life.
Woo’s voice nestled right under the mellow arrangement and rose out with the chorus. Near the end, the group joined with Woo on chorus to vocal fireworks.
In Middleton’s performance, the auditorium finally began to feel the heat. Now, it was bound to get hot. There were easily more than 100 people in the room. “Jealous” is slower song, and Middleton did not rush. And we felt it. The room got hot, quiet. Everyone was drawn in, and when Middleton arrived at the final crescendo singing, “I’m jealous of the way / You’re happy without me,” a sensation of warmth replaced the once oppressive heat. At its best, that’s what a cappella can do—take a familiar feeling or tune and package it into something more intimate.
Featured Image By Clare Kim / Heights Staff