A cappella music can be the most joyful noise a human can make. Tossing all musical instruments aside, a group can still be the most amazing band you've ever heard. Most often thought of in terms of '50s-era doo-wop, straight vocal music is actually a limitless and timeless form with as many interpretations as there are singers. Three diverse contemporary bands will be singing under the stars this Saturday night as part of Scottsdale Center for the Arts' "A Cappella Fest."
San Francisco's The Bobs started the vogue back in the early '80s. Composed of recently unemployed singing telegram deliverers, they made up the first "New Wave a cappella band" anyone had ever conceived of. Their first album is still one of the finest (and oddest) vocal recordings to be found -- imagine a version of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" sung sans roaring guitars and thrashing drums. Then imagine not missing the instruments. It's a strange listening experience the first time. The band's own material covers obsession, paranoia, romance in the era of fax machines and e-mail and the inability to decide between paper or plastic. It also was the first band to salute Andy Kaufman in song (years before R.E.M.) with "Andy Always Dreamed of Wrestling."
The members of Rockapella are the guys whose voices you hear in your head whenever you hum the immortal "The best part of waking up is Folger's in your cup." It is the same group that held a day job for about five years entertaining the youth of our land on the much-missed early '90s PBS show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?. The band has found itself a huge audience in Japan, where it has released seven LPs. Its first proper U.S. release was "Don't Tell Me You Do," an R&B-flavored rocker that crossed over from the niche a cappella category to a wider mainstream audience.
From Seattle, M-Pact might just be the most eclectic vocal band making the rounds. Mixing in elements of jazz, hip-hop, funk, pop and gospel, this entertaining band is interested in taking a cappella to a new level.