REVIEW: Dicks and Janes: “A Family Dinner”

Ahoy! This be the logo!

The lights went down and a sharp-looking a cappella group, half boys, half girls, danced onto the stage in a blend of black and teal. They got right to business and sang a beautiful rendition of Bjork’s “Who is it?”

I have to admit that at first I was disappointed by the program because I had been to the fall concert and had heard 7 of the 11 pieces. Couldn’t they learn new songs? Wouldn’t people remember them? Wasn’t the point of performances to enjoy new music?

But I quickly learned that I found a comfort in hearing the pieces again. They are DJ classics for a reason – because they are SO good at singing them! Each time you hear a song, it is indeed a different song. You, the audience member, have changed since last concert and might interpret the message of the song differently. You might pay attention to new aspects of the song. You might follow a certain singer through the piece’s journey or perhaps watch the group’s explosive body language, focusing in on how they move in sync and make the stage undulate with their shimmying shoulders. Plus, the singers changed up who was the soloist in many of the pieces, which shows how one song can differ depending on the style of the soloist. Some voices are soft and jazzy, while others are pitch perfect belts that ring out to the back of the auditorium and pierce our ears with pleasurable tickles.

My Highlights of the Night:

– Helena Ratté’s arrangement of The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was such a great mix of nostalgic rock and soul. Danny Hensel’s performance was a true showcase of his spectacular range from the depths of baritone caves to sky-high falsetto.

-Kait Mulder’s sultry performance of Etta James’ “At Last.” I felt like I had been transported back to a club in 1960. The romantic calm made me close my eyes and I think we all sort of fell in love with the beauty of that piece.

-Mason Van Gieson was my pick for the star of the night. She had such stage presence and was such a joy to watch. You could tell that she was enjoying every minute up there, which really was communicated through her performance of Mister-Wives’ “Reflections.”

One thing that is really fun about the DJ’s programs is that they provide the OPB (Originally Performed By) information. I personally was not familiar with many of the pieces sung that night, so it was helpful to go on Spotify the next day and listen to the original piece. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I fully preferred the DJ interpretations of every song than the original! What an accomplishment – to improve on successful, published songs!

Oh, and what was that about a family dinner, you ask? Every two or three songs, a few of the singers performed short comedic skits that always centered around awkward family dinner gatherings and ended in horribly, ‘I-can’t-believe-I’m-laughing-this-is-so-bad’ punch lines. Yes, they were probably unnecessary (save for the one where they included a DJ marketing ploy), but the skits added a certain familiarity to the concert. We almost felt more of a connection to the singers – because of the shared awkward experience of a bad punch line or just because it lightened the mood and kept us engaged.

All was a fantastic concert. The Dicks and Janes never fail to get your foot tapping and your mouth curling into a smile. They make you feel like, yes – even you Audience Member, are part of the family.

PREVIEW: Dicks and Janes A Cappella Presents “A Family Dinner”

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You are cordially

invited to

the Dicks and Janes Coed A Cappella’s

End of the Year

“Family Dinner” Performance

Courses included:

Appetizer: Detroit Voice performance (Gluten Free)

Entree: Covers of all your favorite songs, arranged by yours truly, the Dicks and Janes

BYOD (Bring Your Own Dessert)

Who: Dicks and Janes Coed A Cappella

Where: Modern Language Building, Auditorium 4

When: Friday, April 17 at 7:30 pm

How Much?: Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults. ($5 and $8 presale, respectively) and can be purchased at the door or from any DJ!

*Food and drink not included!!!

REVIEW: Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Turn Up!

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Last Saturday night in the MLB Auditorium 3, I knew I was in for a treat when I noticed the marathon of “Infomercials” playing on the wall. The Dicks and Janes, one of the 15 renowned U-M A Cappella groups, were promising a night of fun, diverse musical choices, and perhaps just a teensy bit of harmless daytime TV-bashing. While we waited for the singing extravaganza to begin, the audience was subjected to awful real life horrors that I wish did not exist (I urge you to explore these hilarious videos, perhaps in private, so no one can make fun of you over your shoulder):

What a creative way to lift students’ finals week spirits!

But wait, there’s more…

If you come to the Dicks and Janes concert within the next 30 minutes, we’ll throw in two free performances featuring Sha Bop Shoppe A Cappella and Groove.  The Sha Bop Shoppe is an after-school all-girls ensemble at Pioneer High School. They specialize in performing popular songs, such as Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” which was hauntingly beautiful, as well as “Until the Morning” by Thievery Corporation, which they stopped mid-way through to “speed up a bit” and remix it with their own spunk and soul. If it isn’t impressive enough that they are already dipping their feet in a university venue, add in the fact that they are also sensational choreographers, which means that they create their own choreography movements to flow in sync with their singing. The Sha Bop Shoppe girls definitely will have a powerful vocal presence in a few years in whichever university they choose to attend, so hold on to your boots!

But…the creme de la creme, the reason we were all suffering through the commercials for, was to see…the Dicks and Janes! The minute that they ran on stage and began to sing, the room came alive. Throughout the show, the setlist alternated from hit songs of 2014 (Reflections, Clarity, Say Something, and Latch) to old classics (Happiness is a Warm Gun, Proud Mary, Don’t Mean a Thing). The variety showcased not only the collective group’s range in interest and amazing ability to creatively interpret the pieces (each of the songs are arranged by a Dick or Jane him/herself), but also displayed each individual soloist’s remarkable skills and talents.

I was especially impressed by the energy created in “Clarity.” Originally a high-speed electronic dance song, I was curious how the Dicks and Janes (DJ’s) could recreate that sound. But somehow they did! I’m not a singer myself, so I’m not sure how they accomplished the feat, but they did it stunningly. The crisp “kssss” of every accelerating percussive beat, the siren-like croon of the synthesizer, the pulsing bass…all imitated the feel of “Clarity,” with the voice of DJ member Hannah Sparrow at the center. Perhaps, the DJ’s were a little too good at the house music vibe, for sometimes they turned up the volume a little too much and I could barely hear Hannah. The DJ’s know how to make the MLB Auditorium into a good time, even if they can’t turn up!

Shine the spotlight on Austin Montgomery, another DJ member, and prepare to be amazed. He soloed twice, as he is the token falsetto of the group. He sung his soul out in “Latch,” with perhaps even more energy than Sam Smith himself. And he was able to take Helena Ratte’s playful arrangement of “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” and morph it into a 50’s barber shop sound.

Because I’ve never sung A Cappella, I look on with awe at how the DJ’s start with a silent stage and slowly build on each other with only their voices. They’re like an orchestra, I guess, something I’m more familiar with. But yet, because they are standing and have hands free (no bows or horns to hold), there is a special energy that is present. I literally got shivers when soloist Lyndsey Burke belted out Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” and felt twinges in my heart just from the dramatic facial expressions shown in “Say Something.” I could feel every note, like the DJ’s were handing each one to me. Here you are, have another! their words seemed to say. The DJ’s gave me something that night that is special to a cappella singing. The sound of humanity, streaming through the voice to the ear. No phones, no instruments, no car horns to interrupt the experience; just good ole’ human to human connection. And maybe with a quick infomercial or two.

Call 1-800 999-2288 to get your DJ singer absolutely free! And while you wait, watch this hilarious infomercial video, Save a Suffering Freshman, that the Dicks and Janes made themselves!