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July 26, 2006

Review - Toxic Audio’s lavish imagination

Colorado Springs Gazette (CO):

Toxic Audio, the a cappella group appearing at the Fine Arts Center as part of the Colorado Festival of World Theatre, will have you doubting your ears. Monday, the group’s blend, ensemble and intonation were almost flawless, and the imagination was almost perversely lavish, as one virtuosic moment followed another.

Yet it was a concert that was more amazing than pleasing. The problem was the material’s extremely light weight: You know a group isn’t exactly going for the jugular when its program includes an imitation of an airline toilet flushing, a medley of classic TV show themes, an a cappella rendition of “Wipe Out.” The result was a curious blend of 21st Century technology and vaudeville sensibility — but a show that only Toxic Audio could deliver. Toxic Audio — Jeremy and Shalisa James, Michelle Mailhot-Valines, Rene Ruiz, Paul Sperrazza and sound guy John Valines — has created its niche.

Although none of the Toxins is the kind of headline talent that Lillias White proved to be at last week’s World Theatre Festival gala, they’re a tight ensemble, and they’re all given opportunities to show off their strengths. Sperazza is the best dancer, and his Michael Jackson imitation had me laughing out loud; Jeremy James is the improv guy, creating a rap song based on words pulled randomly from a book; Mailhot-Valines is an accomplished scat singer; Shalisa James is the jack-of-all-trades, at one point putting down about a dozen tracks that were looped to form her own accompaniment; and one microphone isn’t enough for mouth percussion/low-note specialist Ruiz.

A cappella usually connotes the simplicity of unaccompanied voices, but simplicity isn’t in Toxic Audio’s vocabulary. Though no instruments are used, the voices themselves are heavily processed — and not just the usual reverb and equalization, but octave shifting and looping that enables the group to get its rich sound. During the rare moments when they abandoned the gimmickry, Toxic Audio proved to be a very good, but not great, a cappella group. The closing rendition of “Stand By Me” was meant to be touching, but it was too processed to exude charm.

P.S. No. 1: If you dread being dragged up on stage, do not sit anywhere near any aisle — not easy advice to follow in the Fine Arts Center, I know. But if you’re going to do as great a job as the gray-haired guy in the Hawaiian shirt did on Monday night, then by all means take the chance. There may be an agent in the crowd.

P.S. No. 2: The sound system was not so much loud as extremely bright, in order to bring out the brightness of the sibilants.

Posted by acapnews at July 26, 2006 10:35 PM