Review: Pentatonix keeps the holiday fresh

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The problem, sometimes, with Christmas music is that after having heard some songs a kazillion times over on the radio, on television or in your iPhone, the tracks seem encased in amber.

These tunes are a moment in time, an emotion wrapped around a melody; but, in a way they also are museum pieces.

Sometimes you have to have your ears tickled by something fresh, even when it comes to Christmas music.

Pentatonix proved Sunday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena provided that fresh air. At the same time, they demonstrated there is nothing wrong with the classic Christmas songs themselves. All these compositions really needed is to be dusted off and injected with a jolt of energy.

And the five member a capella group is like lightning in a bottle when it came to Christmas music during its two-night stint in southeast Connecticut.

Chestnuts like “God Rest You Merry, Gentleman” and “Jingle Bells” were given insanely zippy renditions. Popular tunes like “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” were recovered from the grocery store muzak soundtrack.

There were many fab musical moments like those throughout Pentatonix’s stint on stage.

I especially loved, the vaguely holiday-esque, yet eerie, “Coldest Winter” with the unearthly sound of Mitch Grassi’s tenor cutting across the arena.

And the quintet gave the Beach Boys a run for the money with their plush version of “God Only Knows.”

And the performance of, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” just prior to the encore, reclaimed the track from dozens of vocal recitals. Pentatonix gave the tune wings through the sound of their voices entwining and unraveling.

Now, I recognize that “Coldest Winter,” “God Only Knows,” and “Hallelujah” aren’t exactly Christmas tunes.

But that is the charm of Pentatonix.

Even when the lyrics paid tribute to the birth of Christ or to some fond memories of the season, Pentatonix approached the songs as talented musicians, filled with musicality and emotion.

The arrangements of Pentatonix’s vocals, whether they were asking, “Mary, Did You Know” or “What Child Is This” or recalling that “Little Drummer Boy,” was what really grabbed my attention on Sunday. The voices of Grassi, Scott Hoying, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola, and Matt Sallee could have been reciting the ingredients for aspirin and still would have sounded lovely.

The harmonies of Pentonix wrap around each and enrich the melodies and chorus. It’s a symphony born of vocal cords and not just the kinds of chords built by the melodies of strings, brass, guitars, and keys.

The group, bereft of a band, also demonstrated considerable showmanship. Yes, their wardrobe on stage was flashy. (I loved Maldonado’s tinsel legwarmers.) But when they spoke, they were earnest, honest, funny, and engaging. They were real. And sometimes, that’s a great show in itself.

At the beginning of the concert, Pentatonix played an animation short that gently poked fun of the group’s penchant for doing Christmas music.

And although they do perform other types of music, for many fans coming out this past Sunday, Christmas doesn’t get started until they have been to the Pentatonix show.

To paraphrase Paul McCartney, some people want Pentatonix to fill the world with jolly Christmas songs…

But, really, what’s wrong with that?

I give Pentatonix at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 8 four out of five stars.