The moment I left the In The Pink concert, I couldn’t help think to myself – this performance was head and shoulders above and beyond the effort they had delivered just one year ago. As I was fighting my way through the crowds of people departing, I took a moment to speculate as to why this was.
Was it because of the more intimate venue they were performing in this time around? Perhaps. The close-quarters three-sided stage of C(+1) was far less daunting, and indeed, less alienated than the high, deep stage of C(-1) that they had braved in 2012.
Was it because each and every member of the group seemed to hold their own, not only on the strong vocal parts but also in the often complex backing? Maybe. The stark contrast between the rabbits-in-the-headlights look of last year and the strong, confident and powerful soloists of this year was definitely a factor.
Or was it because last year I caught them on their first night, a night where nerves would have certainly played a part, whereas this year they had already got past that often difficult barrier? Possibly. The girls demonstrated a confidence and assurance throughout their well-structured set.
However, the most likely reason is this: that they simply sounded a darn sight better than last year.
The most pleasing aspect of In The Pink’s evolution from last year is that they have taken on board past criticisms and worked on the areas in need of improvement. I have accused the girls in the past, rightly or wrongly, of being too ‘cutesy’ and lacking a real ‘oomph’, for lack of a better word, to their sound. To make that claim again after this year’s performance would be highly inappropriate, as they demonstrated from the very start an almost Accidentals-esque feistiness and a real vocal bite.
Their opener, a mash-up of Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River and Alex Clare’s Too Close, contained just the right amount of attitude and flair, with difficult rhythms tackled proficiently and a strong, effective VP keeping the beat driving throughout the number. Both soloists sung with aplomb and pizzazz, and the girls showed they weren’t afraid of the wall of sound, building to a thoroughly satisfying crescendo. A superb start.
And then suddenly we were treated to a gorgeous, exquisite cover of The Feeling’s Rose, an arrangement dug up from the ITP backcatalogue and treated with all the delicacy and fragility of a butterfly’s wing. The solo, a soaring, effortless soprano from Gabie Meade, was simply wonderful, and the simplicity of the backing made the solo stand out even more effectively. With these two numbers, the girls probably gave the best first impression of any of the groups at this year’s Festival. One upbeat, powerful, meaty number, and one sublime close harmony piece. Stunning.
The rest of the set, while not flawless, almost lived up to the magnificent opening. Certain numbers blew me away: their closer, Holding Out For A Hero mashed with Destiny’s Child’s I’m A Survivor combined a real belter of a solo in the former with some dropped RnB beats, demonstrating a new and refreshing side of the group I was thoroughly enjoying; Wonderwall and Boulevard of Broken Dreams, while an obvious mash-up opportunity, was tackled superbly, with some effective echoes in the harmony; and the real highlight of the set, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, gave me goosebumps for the first (and only) time in the Festival, Gabie Meade once again proving her soprano is not only pitch-perfect, but mesmeric.
However, no performance is perfect, and the girls fell into many of the same traps as other groups at this year’s Festival: several times in the upbeat numbers, we lost the solo due to overpowering backing. It’s all well and good having a powerful base behind you, but if you can’t belt out the number louder than the rest of the group, then they need to tone it down a bit. Also, in a couple of numbers, the girls failed to sing right through to the end of each bar. This was most notable in the weakest number of the set, Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight, in which the rather same-y backing wasn’t helped by the tendency to peter out at the end of each bar. And while I appreciated the attempt to change things up with some numbers that only included half the group, these may have been more effective if they were close harmony numbers, rather than upbeat ones, which often felt a little sparse.
However, these niggles shouldn’t take away from the fact that this was a outstanding demonstration of not just vocal talent, but also the benefits of active self-improvement and a refusal to rest on your laurels. Seriously encouraging stuff from the girls from Oxford.