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Home > Main > Berlin’s First PTX Date – Pop, Petting, no Puerling

Berlin’s First PTX Date – Pop, Petting, no Puerling

double review of PTX‘s Berlin show (November 14th, 2013) by Patrick Oliver and Indra Tedjasukmana

Don’t believe the hype, some say. But can one really speak of a “hype” watching Pentatonix’ blitz career? Winners of NBC’s The Sing-off 2011, YouTube sensation, entering Billboard Top10 without a record deal, a sold-out European premiere with a whirlwind tour visiting most European capitals. Any way you look at this group of early twenty-somethings, they have finally reached what many in a cappella kept talking and talking about: They’ve gone totally mainstream. All kind of kids, many of whom have never heard the term a cappella before “Pitch Perfect”, are now sharing their PTX love via the TV of the PTX generation: YouTube.

As a matter of fact, the German vocal music aficionados (No, I’m not calling them the “A Cappella Police”) went to see Pentatonix when they did their first ever show in Germany’s capital, Berlin. The venue, Passionskirche, a church used for concerts on a regular basis was a quite unusual place for both the teenaged audience and for the five US singers. And reading the Patrick Oliver’s (singer with vocal groups Musix, ONAIR, Hartmuth & die Hitmaschine) and Indra Tedjasukmana’s (singer and beatboxer with Sonic Suite and the first student in Germany to write his doctoral thesis on the topic of a cappella) reports, that venue and the surprisingly low-profile sound and lighting system played a big role in this first encounter of the US pop newcomers and the German a cappella intelligentsia. Enjoy the read!


Patrick Oliver live on stageIt could have been so great! Hard to imagine, this smile I would be wearing today while strolling down the streets of Berlin, if only this concert had taken place in Columbiahalle, at Postbahnhof or maybe even at Admiralspalast. Regarding the fact, that the November 14th show was sold out after only two weeks, a significantly larger venue would have been filled nicely, too. Well, at least they could have equipped Passionskirche (the church where the concert eventually took place) with a decent sound system. And if the group had been taken care of by an experienced sound engineer, I would be such a happy guy today. And I would have climaxed a bunch of times, if they hadn’t only covered Pentatonix with cold, white light but a tasteful lighting concept.

They didn’t. And so I sat on the brink of my chair wondering what to think of all this. It all began quite impressively: Long before the doors opened, an large number of waiting fans queued in front of the church. Something I’ve never seen at an a cappella concert before. And how young these people were! Lots of (really good-looking) people, who probably didn’t take any particular interest in a cappella music: they just were so much into Pentatonix – the boy/girl group phenomenon. “If I had known that this will be like at a Robbie Williams show, I would have come earlier”, someone said while waiting.

PassionskircheThe concert started with a delay of fifteen minutes, but then it took off like a rocket! The five singers entered the stage accompanied by Michael Jackson-style ovations. For two minutes they just stood there enjoying the cheers. The moment they started their first song, one thing became clear quickly: You could hardly hear the singers as soon as the crowd went wild.

However, they were doing a great job! They were fully present right from the first moment and dove deep down into the music. They lived and loved every little note, every breath, celebrate every musical change. Despite of the difficult environment, it became very clear that five exceptionally gifted artists created something very special here. And they were so aware of it and gave it their all.

Avi demonstrated overtone singing combined with soul phrasing, Kevin played the cello and beatboxes at the same time – which he shouldn’t have done, as the beatbox sounded terribly. But not even the worst of all sound engineers would have been able to destroy the cello performance: Crazy double stops and innovative blues riffs would have been worth the ticket price of that night.

Mitch never hesitated to conquer the vocal stratosphere and get his spontaneous applause. Scott shone with his charismatic voice and his intense glare. And Kirstie? She had her great moments, but generally she made a rather insecure impression, sometimes even in a bad temper. If she was unnerved by the acoustics, I could feel for her. On certain days, this can truly spoil your day, no matter how much the audience celebrates. Anyway, the way the five filled even the smallest melodic lines with love and passion was so inspiring. They love every single song they do, they just don’t do “that song we just have to do for the crowd.”

Let’s sum it up like that: Everything that happened before the microphone was world class. What followed was a sad chain of errors. The bass lacked exactly that range that one needs for defined bass notes and a proper bass drum. There was nothing but a sub bass mish-mash. The show ended after 90 minutes without intermission and they were gone like true stars.

I stayed behind with a certain dissatisfaction. It could have been great sex. But all I got was petting. I was told there might be the chance of another date next year. I’m going to come – hopefully.


POP, NOT PUERLING (by Indra Tedjasukmana)

Indra profile picPentatonix are one of the most discussed groups at the moment, amongst pop music listeners and fans as well as amongst vocal groups and a cappella singers. There seem to be the ones who like them, support them, welcome the fact that an all-vocal group is joining the ranks of mainstream pop stars. And there also seems to be the other half that critizices PTX for selling their looks, images, that they dress as Wizard of Oz characters, Daft Punk robots and do lots of covers.

NOW: I won´t go into this discussion here! This is a concert review.

I saw PTX’s show at “Passionskirche”, a church in Berlin a few days ago. The church was jampacked, fans were screaming, holding up self-made fan posters etc.

When PTX walked on stage the audience greeted them loudly and with lots of applause. So much and so long that they had to wait until they could start. The concert itself was – in a nutshell – highly energetic. Lots of covers (that they are known for also directly relating to their YouTube videos) and some originals. The sound actually was an issue, as the church turned out to be a difficult place for that kind of bass and beatbox based sound. Oftentimes harmonies and chords were overshadowed by rumbling bass frequencies. PTX was pretty tight in terms of staging, energy, timing and when they were singing “Run to you”, a ballad completely without microphones in the church, one could hear that they are highly trained vocalists and that they do understand blending and the tradition of group like Singers Unlimited, The Real Group et al.

PTX live unplugged in BerlinPop music and YouTube fans got exactly what they wanted: a groovy, loud concert, the characters of the 5 being played out nicely. A cappella fans who were looking for harmony, understanding of the middle voices and blending were probably not excatly happy and I understand their frustration in terms of sound in that church. Others who might have been expecting something totally new and unheard of were probably be disappointed. PTX is a pop group. Fresh. Solid.Groovy. Very skilled. They are not Take 6 or Gene Puerling in a harmonic sense nor do they intend to be. PTX is one of the first groups alongside Naturally 7 and The Exchange to really break into the international pop music business.

Fulfillment or disappointment have a lot to do with what you expect. It is not exactly a secret that PTX is a group that is internationally marketable, they have a clear image and are strongly working through their personalities.

Those who were disappointed by the concert and have expressed this by tweeting or facebooking exactly this are certainly entitled to have their opinion. Maybe it is a good thing though to check what those expectations were. The only thing I found problematic was the sound. Other than that it was a cool pop concert with “Run to you” as a silent moment in which the level of musicality that this group does have was nicely displayed. Deke Sharon once said “Haters gonna hate”. Lovers gonna love. And PTX is going to be on the rise if they continue like that.

Thanks Indra and Patrick for your Berlin report. Now everybody, it’s your time to comment on their articles. Doesn’t matter if you were there or not – what is your impression of Pentatonix? Why do you think they have become so popular in less than two years? And do you think there will be more all-vocal groups breaking into the mainstream?

  1. Hellohk
    18. November 2013, 23:44 | #1

    Well they didn’t expect to sell out a theatre like in the US, where the sound systems and light show would wow anyone. They were in a church and would have learnt their lesson and will come back to Germany in a better venue. I’ve watched their tour videos of the US on YouTube and it is definitely 50 times better.

  2. Hellohk
    18. November 2013, 23:55 | #2

    Hopefully this experience doesn’t deter people and maybe they’ll be back next year at a bigger and better venue

  3. 18. November 2013, 23:59 | #3

    Petting in Berlin, Eargasms in Cologne!
    It took us 21/2 hours to get to Cologne from Bonn last Saturday. We even had to turn back and jump on a train! But it was worth it. Cologne got it right. Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld was the perfect venue with a stage just large enough four the five to fill, pop star lighting and a seasoned sound engineer who gave enough drum and bass to have the mainstream crowd screaming and dancing and enough clarity for the a cappella purist to hear the musicality of the five. the Beyonce Medley was exactly like the video… I was so impressed, they can do it live!! Kirsty brought her bad mood from Berlin which was a pity but the guys made up for it. It was a stellar evening of Pop stars who happen to sing a cappella. Sorry Patrick and Indra… Cologne was the place to be!

  4. 19. November 2013, 13:22 | #4

    Thanks everybody for your comments.

    Having attented other concerts with very young crowds earlier (or just going to any discoteque) makes me wonder if the “too-loud/bad-sound”-question is merely a matter of age (I’m 43 and a father of two teenage girls). Very often, sheer volume and a less than average mix does not keep the kids from enjoying the encounter with their idols.

    So the next logical question is: Why do they actually buy a ticket, queue in front of venues, go crazy even before the artists have appeared? It might be hard to understand for a cappella lovers, but music here is just the means to an end, which is: identifying with cool, good-looking people you’ve come to love on a YouTube channel.

    However, most of us live in free countries and everybody can choose to rather consume or listen to music.

    Looking forward to your feedback on this,

    Vocal Blog

  5. Hellohk
    19. November 2013, 13:50 | #5

    Relax guys, it’s their first European tour. Didn’t expect a sold out one at small venues, just like their first US tour. When they come back for a second European tour they’ll probably move to bigger and better SOUND venues. Enjoy the hype and music because this a cappella group is taking over the music industry. It’s a concert of course peopel are going to scream and cheer for their favourite musicians and idols and seeing that gives the performers energy. A so called ac

  6. Hellohk
    19. November 2013, 13:54 | #6

    Sorry it got cut off. A so called acoustic set or ‘no screaming from the crowd’ performance will only happen in private performances or tv appearances. Like I said just enjoy their music and journey. Forget about the bad sound systems, for all I know they’ll be back for a second European tour and at better and bigger venues and hopefully all of you will come out to support them.

  7. MarkA
    19. November 2013, 20:21 | #7

    It is interesting to hear the different reactions Pentatonix is getting on their European tour. I have seen them live three times now in the U.S. over the last year and only in one of those venues were the acoustics and the sound mix excellent (and Florian, that was at SoJam X, which I think you attended also). That was in a large theater that hosts many different types of plays and performances.

    I think Hellohk is correct. They have been conservative on these first few tours to book smaller venues or “club” type locations since it may be hard to book larger venues until they have proven the kind of crowds that will buy tickets. If they could book larger venues now and then have it only half full, articles would be written about how a cappella will never be mainstream. As they build their reputation and continue to draw attention in the mainstream pop world, continue to sell albums and bring in more ticket sales, they will have the reputation and marketing power to book larger venues with better acoustics, etc. Even in this last year they have upgraded their stage show for medium size venues and next year, I expect they may even be opening for some big time pop acts in big venues.

  8. 20. November 2013, 09:54 | #8

    I do not know a lot venues in Berlin but I talked to Patrick before the concert: the concert was sold out for weeks. So they could easily change to a bigger venue with a better pa.
    One reason that they didn’t? – the promoter just wanted to save money. And he could be sure: most of the teens that were coming don’t care about sound systems. They just want to scream and freak out. For me Pentatonix is not an a cappella group. They are a pop band. And so the promoter thinks, too. I’m sure. And that’s a different pair of shoes.

  9. 20. November 2013, 12:33 | #9

    Obviouly, it’s impossible to put out a YouTube hit every week, produce two albums, do PR in the States, rehearse, work on a proper show/lighting/sound concept, market your album without major support etc. etc. etc. without things like Berlin or Vienna happening. Can you imagine the whirlwind those guys have been caught in since they won the Sing-off and decided to go for it? It will be fascinating to watch, how their career develops – and how they and their management will juggle all these things. The thing is, that neither Pentatonix nor the people who are in mainstream music business (or what’s left of it after complete digitalisation) have strong or any bonds to what we call “the a cappella scene”. Neither have their YouTube listeners and regular fans. So we either enjoy their success, promote it and use it to make people aware of the art form or just treat them like regular pop acts that have nothing really to do with the vocal music community.

  10. Deborah Rosanwo
    22. November 2013, 14:37 | #10
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