Has anyone ever told you that a cappella is a dying art? Well, if they did, they’re wrong, and they should fuck off.
I’m not talking about that show that everyone’s sick of or the film about quirky white women™ that shouldn’t have been given a sequel. I’m talking about good old fashioned, vocal-only polyphonic choruses, performed live by a bunch of fantastically hipster university students, for the sheer joy of exploring the weird and funky limits of the human vocal range. Look, it’s okay: a cappella doesn’t actually need to be a trendy, aesthetic, dignified form of musical expression.. It’s been around since the fifteenth century, and as a musical form it’s a haphazard conglomerate of Gregorian chant, Renaissance hymns, 1930s barbershop quartets, and vintage African-American doo-wop. A cappella is a mess. It’s never going to be cool. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
I promised Honi I would bring my best bitchy judgement to Thursday’s Sydney Fringe a cappella concert. I steeled myself beforehand. It wasn’t hard; I was running late for the 7pm start, and to get into the Sound Lounge I have to brave a monstrously slow and disturbingly creaky hydraulic wheelchair ramp that I got stuck in for twenty minutes the last time I visited the Seymour Centre. To my exceeding relief, there were no problems this time around. The Seymour staff had reserved a table at the back at convenient wheelchair height, and one of them was waiting at the entrance to pull aside the heavy black curtain and usher me into the audience.
My first thought, as the dulcet tones of The Acappelicans poured forth from the stage, was: ah fuck.
I just really bloody love a cappella, okay? I’m biased, I admit. I knew already that the likelihood of me not enjoying the show was absolutely infinitesimal. I was determined to review the show sternly, dispassionately, and with careful consideration of all the pros and cons of the performance, right down to the trivial details. I was determined not to do exactly what I did do, which is immediately melt into a puddle of vaguely-Robin-shaped delighted musical bliss.
But hey: good art should overwhelm you, a little. Or a lot.
The Acappelicans’ show was a sensory feast: an eclectic but nevertheless well-curated mixture of rock ballads, kids’ movie soundtracks, 60s classics and nostalgic 90s one hit wonders. And Waltzing Matilda. For some reason, it works.
Apart from displaying impressive, technically brilliant singing from a broad collection of vocal ranges, The Acappelicans also manage to strike a surprisingly sweet balance of perfect deadpan, excellent comic timing, and genuinely touching sincerity. Basically, they’re a bunch of adorable fucking nerds. To get up on a stage in glitter and black tie and sing your heart out in front of a bunch of strangers with no backing track, you have to have to love what you’re doing, and it’s plainly obvious that they do. Additionally, for nine people who are all clearly divas to the bone, they are surprisingly humble, thanking the audience for coming at least once every two songs.
For the duration of the hour-long performance, the singers take turns holding centre stage, moving seamlessly between bouncy backup vocals and powerful leading melody. Every single one of them has the skill, energy, and charisma to lead the group (and keep the room spellbound in the process), but their real strength lies in their fluid and faultless teamwork. The nine people on stage managed to meld into one great, sprawling organism, each of them a part of a single seamless whole. They seem to exude their own kind of gravity, a huge and gentle pressure that waxes and wanes with the rhythm of the setlist.
The Sound Lounge is a beautiful space, soundproofed and dimly lit, with electric candles scattered over the tables. It feels like being inside an enormous church bell. During the show, the music carried perfectly, and lay so heavily in the air that it felt almost tangible. The audience was rapt through every song, but there’s such a friendly vibe that it manages to circumvent that nagging “not posh enough” feeling that tends to settle over the audience during stylish acts like this one. I spotted more than a few audience members cheerfully jamming it out in their seats.
There is one night left of The Acappelicans’ Sydney Fringe show: do yourself a favour and swipe a ticket to their last performance.
The Acappelicans’ final Fringe Festival show will be tonight at 7PM at the Seymour Centre’s Sound Lounge.