Covers: A Pop Concert, is an annual tradition for nine very talented male singers who comprise the Twin Cities ensemble of Cantus – but there is nothing traditional about it. Flying the face of the subdued or reserved reputation that classical music performances maintain, Cantus proves itself flexible, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining for modern audiences of all ages with this show. This year, they embarked on a new challenge: to cover The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in its entirety. This successful endeavor not only demonstrates that good music stands the test of time, but the rigors of new arrangements and compositional mash-ups can only make it better. Whether your musical comfort zone is classical, pop, rap, rock, or anything in between, Cantus’ 2016 Covers concert will have you clapping along, dancing in your seat, and leave you utterly refreshed about the state of music in the world today.
Out of the gate, these dashing men burst into song with “I Want You Back,” mashing two great hits from different decades together by *NSYNC and The Jackson 5. The first fourth of the concert continued with arrangements of other modern hits by Foo Fighters, and one of Vulfpeck’s shy and adorable Back Pocket, sung oh so sweetly by tenor Paul Scholtz. Yet it was the complete rewrite of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” – renamed “Barbershop” – that blew audience’s minds. Riddled with music theory jokes and smart stabs at barbershop quartets, I’m still in shock by how rhythmic and on-point their version of this song was, all while in the perfect style of the original. I’d pay to hear it five more times, just to catch all the words!
The majority of the evening’s program centered around covering Pet Sounds. At this 50th Anniversary of its release, Cantus takes something old and makes it new again. In collaboration with three multi-talented instrumentalists, and sometimes members of Cantus themselves on guitar, brass, piano, and percussion (Chris Voss, Samuel Green, Matthew Tintes, Matthew Goinz, Zachary Colby), the ensemble ran the album straight through, only stopping for intermission. From classic arrangements on “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” to bluegrass on “I’m Waiting For the Day,” and blues, jazz, rock, and pop, Cantus both displayed their brilliant ability to perform these tunes in difficult compositions like a piece of cake, and have a complete blast while doing it.
Anyone who says that classical music compositions aren’t fun or relevant today is in for some very contradictory news. Cantus not only does Pet Sounds justice in 2016, live on stage, but highlights their unique ability to creatively rearrange an album that at times, I have written off as not relevant to my generation. Yet after hearing contemporary versions of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” and the brilliant tenor of Joe Shadday on “Caroline, No,” I’m convinced that the best music is what still speaks clearly and deeply to you 50 years later.
The evening ended on a spunky and spectacular series of tunes, including a Grammy Award winning medley of Daft Punk, and a groovy performance of “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, featuring the fantastic tenors of Adam Fieldson and Paul Rudoi (which they used as a teaser promotional trailer at Summit Brewing). I won’t spoil the finale, but it’s a stunning tribute song, written in one weekend by one of Cantus’ own, to honor two famous men in pop/rock music who passed away in 2016, leaving many headlines, and long legacies in their wake.
There is really something about being in the presence of live song, so enthusiastically performed, that invigorates the soul. Cantus knows how to hit that sweet spot, keeping you fully in the moment during the show, and unable to get the songs out of your head afterwards. These genuine and hard working vocalists (and instrumentalists) have put together one of the best shows that will happen in Minneapolis this year. Hopefully you have a ticket for one of their upcoming shows this week! Covers runs June 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11, 2016, and is close to being completely sold out.