CEDAR RAPIDS — I missed Straight No Chaser’s December 2009 concert in Iowa City because the weather gods forgot to hold the ice. Still nursing supreme disappointment three years later, that all melted away the minute 10 guys with Indiana University roots hit their first sublime notes in “We are Young.”
How appropriate to start Thursday’s sold-out Paramount Theatre show (11/16/12) with a song by New York indie pop band Fun. Because every single moment of Straight No Chaser’s concert was fun, from the hilarious opening video chats with the musical band of brothers to the beautiful second encore of “O Holy Night.”
Lest you think it’s weird to call a Christmas hymn “fun,” you should hear how the a cappella ensemble’s lovely harmonies with a hip edge bend and blend around the familiar melody, punctuated by finger snaps, giving a soulful feel to the evening’s final ahh-inspiring moment.
The entire two-hour concert shimmered with fun, as the guys, who range in age from 20s to 30s, gave us plenty of musical frat-boy antics weaving in and out of inventive doo-wop stylings. Just a couple of pitches were a momentarily rocky, but they quickly rolled back into alignment. Toss in some subtle beat boxing and vocal percussion, and it’s hard to believe they’re singing completely unaccompanied — not a string or wind instrument in sight except for the men’s golden throats.
One of the loveliest sounds belongs to tenor Tyler Trepp of Urbandale, a 2007 Indiana University grad. His comrades made sure he got plenty of time in the spotlight for his home state and hometown fans in the audience.
A cappella harmonies have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, but sheer innovation and the strength of numbers set Straight No Chaser apart from the likes of Manhattan Transfer, Take 6, Rockapella, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men. Nobody mashes up melodies like Straight No Chaser.
The novelty of their “12 Days of Christmas” rocketed the original singers to YouTube superstardom and into pop culture popularity. It’s the only arrangement of that painful song I want to hear, year after year. Mix up the days and toss in some “Deck the Halls,” “Boar’s Head Carol,” “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” “Carol of the Bells” and “Rudolph” — then add a twist of “The Dreidel Song” and Toto’s “Africa” — and you have something special indeed.
See it live, and it’s even better, taking on a life of its own. The very first note sent wild cheers and whistles bouncing off the walls in the acoustically marvelous hall, perfect for showcasing a concert full of musical nuances.
As simply and as smoothly as they move their feet, they slip in and out of vintage doo-wop and Top 40 hits, adding their own special spin to “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Call Me Maybe.”
A special shout-out, however, must go to the basement-dwelling basses rumbling out “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the popping vocal and footwork grooves to “Billie Jean” and the hilarity of “Gangnam Style.”
Their humor triumphed, however, at the end of the first half, as they created laugh-out-loud lyrics to iconic movie theme songs, from “Titanic” and “Forrest Gump” to “E.T.,” “Chariots of Fire” and “Star Wars,” complete with a kick line.
These guys know how to stir up an audience.
The Paramount continues its stellar opening run with performances by Bill Cosby at 8 p.m. today (11/17/12); B.B. King at 7 p.m. Sunday and The Silhouettes: Homecoming at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Watch for our reviews on HooplaNow.com