by MIKE CHAIKEN
I would guess there is that moment in every Straight No Chaser’s concert where a smile arises on the face of an audience member when the thought pops into their head, “Oh no, they just didn’t do that, did they?”
Actually, unless you’re a regular attendee of a Straight No Chaser concert—and there were quite a few of repeat offenders at the Dec. 2 show at the Mohegan Sun—there are several of those moments throughout the evening.
The a cappella group, which is celebrating 20 years of togetherness, offers up a sense of wonder just by the fact of their existence on an arena stage. After all, the arena is where guitar amps are cranked up to 10, a division of drums pound away the beat, and all matter of musical electronics fill the silence of what would be a silent auditorium without their presence.
But this is not the case of Straight No Chaser. They step on to the stage, dressed in stylish matching suits, and there is not a single instrument, not a single human being other themselves, on stage. And when the voices punch through the speakers, they offer up an entire orchestration—complete with percussion– courtesy of the human voice.
And it all fills the space of the auditorium just as well as any rock band.
For me, that moment of “Oh no, they didn’t do that, did they?” came when they tackled a medley of Prince songs (including “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” I was used to the sound of synths and syndrums. I was used to the sound of Prince’s singular voice from the classic 1980s recordings. But, here come Straight No Chaser offering up their take on the Purple One’s music. Voices took on the role of drums. Voices took on the role of the percolating funky bass lines. The chorus of voices took on the role of the wash of synths. And the voices conveyed the passion of the melodies and lyrics.
It was great fun. It was a great tribute to a pop genius. And it all worked perfectly.
It was pure Straight No Chaser.
The evening was filled with similar moments of amazement as the group tackled familiar pop tunes (Beyonce’s “Single Ladies?”), some tunes not so familiar, a medley of TV theme shows, and some touching and fun holiday music. (They have a new holiday album called “I’ll Have Another… Christmas Album,” which is a worthy addition to your playlists.)
Of course, great music is fine in itself. But one of the dimensions that I’m sure appeals to SNC’s loyal fans is the entertainment factor of their shows. They danced. They goofed around. (I pity the poor people who arrived late to the front row, who received some good natured ribbing. And of course, “All About the Bass” is a clever appeal to a cappella groups the world over.) They conversed with the audience. And they charmed.
Every word, every note, it was clear Straight No Chaser has found a way to connect to their fans. (Who barely left an empty seat in the house.)
Overall, even if you weren’t a fan of a cappella music at the beginning of the evening Dec. 2 in Uncasville, you were sure to leave with the sense, “Hey, this stuff is great.”
I give Straight No Chaser at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 2 four out of four stars.