Deadbeats: Cabaret needs some performance enhancers

February 26, 2015

Last Friday night, Georgetown Cabaret hosted their annual charity show at the Black Cat. The show was a big success—selling more tickets this year than the previous two years combined. Self-described as a pop/rock/R&B cover band, Cabaret put up a great variety of music and showcased a tremendous amount of talent. While I enjoyed their show, the whole thing made me feel like Cabaret has a lot of wasted potential.

For one thing, the setlist was hit-or-miss. Don’t get me wrong, every song was technically well-performed and everyone knew what they were doing, but some song choices and cover styles were very odd and made those songs hard to get into.

I got really excited when vocalist Alex Waldon (COL ’15) asked the audience, “Are there any Radiohead fans out there?” “Oh boy,” I thought. “Here comes ‘Creep,’” But instead of a rousing, power chord-soaked cover, in the vein of the Radiohead original, we got a slower, vocal and piano-driven version, similar to one performed by the Georgetown Phantoms a cappella group last year.

It was beautiful, it was sad, but it was hard to sing along to and it sucked some of the energy out of the room. And at a band show, energy is everything.

From start to finish, a setlist and performance style must get the crowd going as much as possible. A performance is not just about an audience watching a group do their thing. It’s about an audience and a group doing something together and interacting—the Cabaret show didn’t always live up to that possibility. There we were 500 college students at the damn Black Cat in D.C. Every song should try to make everybody lose it and sing along to it.

“Creep” was not the only misstep. In general, it seems like the Cabaret vocalists, most of whom I recognize from campus a cappella groups, give Cabaret too much of an a cappella ethos, as opposed to a band ethos. Some of the vocalists lapsed into a weird, beat-keeping arm and upper body bob that a cappella groups do while they’re huddled together at shows. It fits in at an a cappella show, but it looks out of place when a soloist is doing it up on stage at the Black Cat.

But the problem with the a cappella vocalists is larger than just some of their out of place mannerisms. In a cappella, a show’s quality is most directly tied to how the vocalists’ voices sound.

To that end, at their show, Cabaret spent most of their energy on trying hard to sound good. They usually did, but lost some of the performance energy as a result. In fact, I think that their best songs last Friday were the ones that didn’t necessarily sound perfect.For their “Bring Me to Life” cover, for example, Cabaret guitarists Dan McCusker (COL ‘16) and David Alzate (SFS ‘18)—who impressively played for all 30 songs in the setlist—turned up the guitars and wailed on them. Vocalists Brendan Hickey (COL ‘15) and Olivia Duff (COL ‘16) teamed up for the song, and Hickey had all the self-awareness and guts necessary to scream out some of the songs lines. It was harsh, it was messy, but man was it fun to see them go at it.

I lost it when my roommate and Cabaret vocalist Ed Crotty (MSB ’16) did “Talk Dirty” and then outrageously turned it over to saxophonist Tom Ferry (COL ‘16), who nailed 2 Chainz’s rap. The two were so high energy that the crowd really got going.

Cabaret’s show demonstrates the importance of not only crafting a good setlist but also coming up with an exciting performance style. I love getting to go to Georgetown shows, and, for such a pre-professional school, it’s great for a band like Cabaret to exist. But the group needs to capitalize on its talent pool and make Cabaret less of a revolving-door cover band and more of a cohesive performative force. How a band sounds and how they play are different things, and either one can supersede the other. Cabaret has more or less nailed their skills, but they should try to encapsulate the excitement of the opportunity to have Georgetown take over the Black Cat for a night into their performance.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Cabaret. It’s all out of love for Georgetown’s music scene, which needs all of the energy it can get if seeing talented musicians at Georgetown is to ever become more than an occasional event.

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