I almost didn’t get my first live drum corps fix on Thursday night. The weather had been schizophrenic all day, alternating between significant rainfall and sunny skies. The weather report for Pittsburgh was not promising, either, as the radar showed possible storms hitting Baldwin High School’s Highlander Stadium at some point during the night’s performances. Fortunately, while there was a minor sprinkle during intermission, the show went off without a hitch, and the five corps were able to perform their full shows. Two of those corps, the Glassmen and the Boston Crusaders, were making their 2011 competitive debut at this show, so it was a great chance for me to get a first read on both of their shows, especially since I would see Glassmen again on Saturday at the DCI Western Michigan major show. I also had the opportunity to view the Crossmen, Spirit of Atlanta, and Bluecoats at this show.
It was the Crossmen that led off the night’s performances with their 2011 program, Renewal. Crossmen could have also called this show Return, as the corps featured the return of Chuck Naffier as brass arranger and Lee Beddis as percussion arranger, a dynamic duo which put together great musical programs for the Crossmen from 2000 until 2003, Beddis until 2004. The show also featured a return to the Crossmen jazz groove, a signature of the corps since well before their move to Texas. The music, which ranged from a Naffier original; Blood, Sweat, & Tears by way of Maynard Ferguson; Leonard Cohen; and Brazilian jazz composer Nando Lauria, speaks to the crowd throughout the whole show and gives the corps plenty of opportunities to show their talent. While the corps placed last tonight, their score of 62 is definitely within striking distance of those corps which will fight for a Finals spot. If the corps can clean up their visual percussion, plus work on more dynamic contrast from the horns by making the loud moments louder, they are definitely a contender for their first Saturday night Finals performance since 2004.
Another corps which is returning to their roots, not just in style but also in name, is the Spirit of Atlanta. While still sporting their new uniforms from last year, the corps has returned to where they began, taking up the mantle of their history as well as their geography. The show, ATL Confidential, is a tribute to the film noir genre, but while the musical selections are all from film scores, the corps finds plenty of opportunities to get down and dirty, Southern style. This is especially true during Harlem Nocturne, a bluesy jazz piece which, incredibly, the corps has not played before. The drum line, however, is currently the corps’ weak link, placing last at this show. Another issue is the use of sound effects during the show. An example of this is when a female guard member, portraying a lady in red femme fatale, “shoots” another member of the corps. Even though she’s in the middle of the field holding a prop pistol, the “gunshot” sound comes from the speakers up front and sounds weak. It would be much more effective to use a cap gun so the sound comes from the correct location and sounds more realistic. Despite these issues, Spirit is another of the corps who will be fighting for a Finalist spot come August.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, tonight was the Glassmen’s first show. Taking into account the usual first show jitters which I distinctly remember from my marching days, it’s understandable that there was less impact from the show than expected. Considering this fact, my judgement of my alma mater corps will be lighter than normal. Don’t worry, though, as I’ll make it up in my Grand Rapids review if necessary. Despite those first performance issues, which mainly manifested themselves in the pit, where the synth bass was turned up waaaay too much, and in the horn line, which lacked some of the impact which the brass arrangement calls for, the Glassmen have a very strong show in My Mortal Beloved, a show which has a very interesting musical range, going from Verdi’s Requiem to Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love. Two sections of the corps stood out for me. First, the percussion, showing a strong level of technique and power. The percussion judge also was impressed, giving Glassmen’s drum line second and the top score in Percussion Technique. The other section was the color guard, which, while having drop issues, performs very aggressively and takes a lot of risks (hence the drops in the early season). They may miss now, but they’re fun to watch and they’ll get clean as the season progresses. Glassmen are at the top of the bubble corps for Finals and, once they get their confidence from multiple performances, they can start pulling away from that group and maybe even look at moving up the Finalist ranks during the season.
One of the songs from Les Miserables is Red and Black, one of the anthems of the student revolutionaries in the story. While the Boston Crusaders don’t perform this song in their 2011 show, Revolution, they do focus on Les Mis for most of their source material, interweaving Tchiakovsky’s 1812 Overture at times throughout the show to great effect. The opening statement, with the corps in a company front on the front sideline, slowly backing away as they pound the audience with sound, is a great start to the show. The momentum continues through The Attack on Rue Plumet, a fast paced selection with lots of energy. Unfortunately, the momentum falters during the drum solo, which, while starting off promising, features strange Star Trek phaser shot effects in the pit which do not fit the show at all and distract the audience from the percussion’s feature. It apparently also distracted the percussion judge, who gave the BAC line 4th tonight. Bring Him Home follows and can be much more effective if the issues with the drum solo are addressed, especially considering the killer baritone soloist featured during this song. The Crusaders get back on their Napoleanic horse for the closer, One Day More, with more 1812 thrown in for great measure. This is straight up Boston and is another show which bears watching as the design staff works out the kinks in what they’ve given the members to perform.
Ahhh, the Bluecoats. If you asked me which horn line would be my favorite back when I marched, you’d never hear me even consider the corps from Canton. After all, they were the in-state rivals, the corps who cut me when I tried out for them in ’91. I’ve gotten over that slight, especially considering I couldn’t march worth spit when I tried out for them, and now worship their tuba line. After last year’s tuba feature, it’s hard to believe they could be even more insane with the parts they play, but Doug Thrower found a way, big time. It’s the opener of Brave New World, Radiohead’s Creep, which really sets the stage. With the musical members of the corps starting on the perimeter of the field, sans instruments and headgear, the guard starts front and center, first with a lone member, then with the rest joining in. A pit member begins Creep, based on the Scala and Kolacny Brothers arrangement made famous in the movie trailer for The Social Network, with a piano solo. As the horns make their way to their instruments, each section joins in until the full corps, now all front and center, hit the crowd with their sound, a statement which is incredibly effective and may be one of the best musical moments of the season. The rest of the show is a technical smorgasbord, using Michael Daugherty’s Deus Ex Machina and John Mackey’s Harvest to showcase what, in my opinion, is one of the best hornlines in DCI. It’s aggresive arranging which the horn line handles with aplomb, while the drum line, who took top honors tonight, matches their skill and intensity. The Bluecoats are out to prove that last year was not a fluke and that they, too, are worthy of contending for the top spot in DCI.