Drum Corps International Tour Premiere 2017

Drum Corps at the Movies has been the kickoff to the Drum Corps International summer tour for a number of years, and this year’s was held on Thursday night, June 22nd. Defending champions Bluecoats performed along with Carolina Crown, The Cavaliers, The Cadets, Blue Stars, and Crossmen at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The event was attended live, but also simulcast to movie theaters across the United States.

I enjoyed the whole program and look forward to a great year from all the corps. But my take of what this show says for the season: it’s a good year to be the Blue Devils.

First, here are my thoughts on the shows, corps-by-corps.

Crossmen

“Enigma” is the Crossmen’s 2017 program, a theme carried by some well-designed props: rectangular frames with ribbons of fabric that form prison-bar imagery while static but also allow performers to manipulate the lines. The props provided great staging at key moments of the show, the ballad in particular.

crossmen-2017-uniforms-prop

But the visual design was also one of its biggest failings. A large portion of their longest middle movement found the corps performing in an intentionally cramped position. It was easy to see they were going for a feeling of entrapment, but in this medium relies so much on spacing I think the effect doesn’t payoff.

Some caveats to this problem chunk: I don’t think the guard were marching in their finished costumes, so more color from them may clear it up. The props may also not be the solid black they currently are in the end. But it seems like they were intentionally holding off color reveal until they brought out the green equipment for the ballad, so using color to fix the cramped aesthetic may end up cannibalizing another moment.

Enjoyed the show for what is was. The tune from “A Beautiful Mind” is one of my favorites anyway, and that motif was well-integrated as a motif throughout the show. It may still be enough to give them a shot at the 7th- 9th place range that they’ve been shooting for since the early 2000’s.

Blue Stars

“Star Crossed” is tells parallel stories of Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and Moulin Rouge. Fun idea, and visually stated very well in the uniforms and featured soloists in the guard. I liked this show for all the reasons I started enjoying Crown shows in 2007 (and since): a brass book with great melodies and technical challenges and a theme that is intriguing but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

This show suffers from its own idea though, it felt very segmented. The attempts at variety of music and mashups falter because each idea had to make its own intiative and sell me on it. As the performance becomes tighter, maybe the flow will come as well. The opener was definitely performed at a higher level than the rest, so much work will need to be done.

The best parts of the show are the featured guard soloists – each character’s introduction was designed with great care, and that comes across well. There were so many drops on this run-through that the moments didn’t reach their full potential, but I can see these guard moments being great.

blue-stars-tour-premiere-2017

The Cadets

A little bit of awesome and lots of bits of weird — welcome to The Cadets 2017 performance of the Bernstein Mass, “The Faithful, The Fallen, The Forgiven.” This piece has done well for The Cadets in the past, in particular as part of their championship show in 1990. This year it is a solid repertoire tasked with anchoring a big bet.

“Weird” is not unfair by any stretch. No moments of this show are straightforward in the drum corps sense of big hits, structure, or pacing. We are stretched and pulled in every direction; usually at the whim of a costume change or a new idea expressed by the 8-member choir standing in the front ensemble.

None of that is a bad thing – in fact, I spent my time watching the show being pretty optimistic. The drumline in particular had me nodding my head happily even more than the higher-scoring corps. The costumes were pretty great even if the transitions between each of them seemed a constant to-do list and no other visual moments really matched their importance.

I turned to Danny afterwards and said it felt like it a show that would climb to 3rd or 4th and win a drum trophy. But only so much can get cleaned once you’re on tour, and only so much of a show can change. Minute-to-minute there just seemed to be a lot things that were subject to change the next morning.

cadets-tour-premiere-2017

The Cavaliers

The Cavaliers blew me away. I wasn’t expecting them to perform this well, nor get the score that they did. Any corps scoring over 70 in their first outing is a force to be reckoned with, and Cavies are in that cool kids club this year with their nominally masculine show “Men are from Mars.”

This show doesn’t seem to deserve this good of a performance. It’s like they weren’t even trying to win a title and decided to recruit instead. Then they just ended up with a group able to win a title. I’m really not a fan of the “My Way” incorporation at the end – just came off as muddled. And dear goodness, that “MEN. MEN. MEN. MEN.”  synthesized vocal needs to get cut. If we could just lose the moments of annoying, I see no reason why this show couldn’t be amazing. But right now it’s destined to make fun of itself.

Prove me wrong, fellas. Prove me wrong. No really, please prove me wrong. I really enjoyed the performance even I think the design is lacking.

cavaliers-splooie-tour-premiere-2017

Carolina Crown

Carolina Crown has won the Jim Ott Award for Best Brass Performance five times in the previous eight seasons: 2009, 2011-2013, and 2016. They sound every bit as good this year, without question. So why in the hell would you choose to have a vocalist sing over the top of them during the climax of the ballad?!

I enjoyed the singing through the first chorus. The melody is nice, the lyric is great, I can see why they would feature a vocalist – it’s fine. But when it’s time for Crown to give me their best brass sound of all, everyone else needs to get out of the way. The best thing this vocalist is doing for their potential is it is keeping everyone from talking about how terrible the last half of their show is at a fundamental level.

The opener was great. Ballad has a vocalist covering the best part – but y’know what, I’ll still call it great. Then they come out of that with an amazing drill move: a triangle that kaleidoscopes out with beautiful velocity. And it’s all downhill from there. From that point on I was just cringing.

Steve Rondinaro nailed it when he said he’d be happy with only listening to the Bach “Little Fugue” from the introduction. Of course you would, Steve! We all would. It was the only time they let their incredible brassline do their thing. So disappointed.

They are still contenders, and I still love the sounds they make. But I’m not brimming with optimism for their title chances even with the excellent score they earned (and deserved.)

carolina-crown-tour-premiere-2017.jpg

Bluecoats

The design team at the Bluecoats have really set a high bar for themselves. They’ve had high finishes and now a championship using overt props and high-energy music. Keeping that up year after year is not a simple thing. But once again, they’ve kept to that aim with “Jagged Line.”

The Jagged Line in question is not subtle. Not like you’d expect to be. It’s more accurately a stage in the center of the field.

bluecoats-stage-jagged-line.jpg

It’s exactly what we’d expect from the Bluecoats coming off recent years: lots of electronics, mixed meter marching, a focus on General Effect. A lot of those effects work! But I’m not sure they work as well this year as they have in the past.

bluecoats-bloo17-tour-premiere-2017.jpg

Dare I say it: I think they’re playing it safe. Nothing about this show felt truly adventurous. The way they march so quickly under and on top of the jagged line is pretty cool – but it’s just fast marching. And they call back to that maneouver a couple times.

The electronic balancing in the ballad could be considered a risk, but as soon as the electronics dropped out for effect, the weaknesses in their hornline sound came out. That’s not adventurous, it’s just not clean playing. (Yes, it’s the first show of the year.)

They deserved to win on Thursday night. I think they’ll stay in contention all season. I also think they won’t win at Finals.


Back to my hasty opinions: even without seeing the Blue Devils yet this year, it feels like none of these corps are standing out as clear winners based purely on the program design. And one day later, BD still topped 70 and beat Santa Clara Vanguard (who also topped 70.) In a race to be the cleanest, BD almost always wins. My bet is we’re just watching the first stretch of that race.

As I get older, further away from the days when I marched, I enjoy more and more just being a fan of the activity instead of any one corps. So far I can say that I don’t really care who wins, because none of the shows were just made for me the way that Crown 2013 or Bluecoats 2015 felt like they were. But even with my judgements, I had fun watching all the shows on Thursday and I hope they all make it a close competition.

Have a comment? Try to be nice.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s