In their first concert of the year, the Con Artists, the cornerstone group in Lawrence a cappella, took the stage in a full Stansbury Theatre last Friday night, along with the newly formed women’s group Conchordance.The Con Artists have long been a campus tradition, and its regularly modified membership now includes Mike Axtell, Brent Funderburk, Evan Bravos, Nick Meyer, Zach Monteith, Zach Becker, and Zach Olsen.
As one might hope from an all-male ensemble, the Con Artists successfully mix the smooth vocals and tight harmonies of the genre with a certain amount of on-stage charisma, even without the choreography one often sees in a cappella groups. While senior and four-year member Axtell most frequently took on the burden of talking with — and charming — the audience, each member had their moment in the spotlight, trading off the solo spot in front of the group.
Their fare of primarily pop arrangements included favorites such as “Insomniac,” with a solo by Monteith, “Crazy” with Becker, and the inevitable “Africa.” They also branched out to try a spiritual — “Operator,” with Bravos — and a jazz standard, with Axtell soloing.
The singers were not opposed to getting a little silly for the audience’s sake — or at its expense. One lucky young woman, who was so unfortunate as to have a birthday, was called up on stage for a personal birthday serenade. The men let loose on her all the unbridled schmaltz and sappy charm that a half-dozen male singers in button-down shirts are capable of.
They also turned their comedic instincts against doo-wop in a good-natured fight between Axtell and Funderburk.
Highlights from a concert filled with engaging music included Meyer’s solos and Funderburk’s outstanding beat-boxing. It’s truly a shame that we had to wait until the second or third encore before Funderburk stepped up for a “drum solo.”
The men took a break mid-show to make way for Conchordance, the women’s a cappella group. Recently formed and still under construction, the ensemble is currently made up of Jessie Arlen, Natalie Beck, Alicia Bones, Schuyler Gardner, Megan Hendrickson, Beth Melzer, and Katie Schuld. The singers are eager to offer something new to the a cappella scene at Lawrence. They wanted “to provide the opportunity to hear not only men’s or mixed groups, but a women’s a cappella group as well,” says co-founder Melzer.
They started up on a whim, however. According to Melzer, “One day, two girls started scheming on a bus from Minnesota, and with the help and support of [Professor of Music and Cantala Women’s Choir director] Mr. Swan, the rest is history.”
According to Gardner, they’re eager to branch out. “We’re also discussing doing a mix of world music in addition to pop music.” Expect to hear more from them, as they’re planning on recruiting more members, singing more concerts, and recording a CD.
Expect to hear more from the Con Artists this year, too, with some off-campus performances and a CD release on the horizon.