From 'Shallow' to 'Old Town Road,' Pentatonix sings with gusto at sold-out Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee

Piet Levy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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When Pentatonix first played Milwaukee five years ago, at the Riverside Theater, the crowd energy was so intense it felt like the building could barely contain it. 

Pentatonix played a much bigger room Tuesday, performing at a sold-out Fiserv Forum, the group's first arena show in Milwaukee.

That’s a heck of an accomplishment for an a cappella group, but Tuesday’s show showed that they earned it.

Kirstin Maldonado (from left), Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying sing to each other during their performance at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

The group has upgraded its stage production to work for an arena, performing the original “Natural Disaster” behind a transparent screen, with rain projected on it (and bolts of lightning flashing on a separate screen behind it), giving the dramatic impression that the group was singing in a thunderstorm. 

But Pentatonix has long had crossover appeal, evident by the slick snippets of a cappella covers they touched on Tuesday from their winning season of NBC's a cappella competition show "The Sing-Off." In honor of the group's eight-year anniversary two weeks ago, they also performed the first song they ever arranged together, Lady Gaga's "Telephone," and even that starter song showcased their vocal finesse and skills with arrangements.

Pentatonix — or, specifically, Kevin Olusola — resurrected an ongoing bit that help set the group apart at shows, beatboxing as he played the cello. Yeah, I know: cello at an a cappella concert — sacrilege. But it's nevertheless a dazzling feat, enhanced further Tuesday with looping and wordless vocals that coalesced around a brief instrumental version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition."

The cello stuck around for a new arrangement of the "A Star Is Born" hit "Shallow," with Kirstin Maldonado bringing the song to its crescendo atop heavenly vocals from Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi.

Covers naturally constituted a wide portion of the hour-and-45-minute set, and spanned a wide gamut (which, in part, explains Tuesday's large audience).

There were thoughtful interpretations of classics like Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that honored the soulfulness of the original versions, and offered Pentatonix's newest member, Matt Sallee, a chance to break free from his role as the bass with show-vocal surges. 

A medley of Ariana Grande tunes illustrated Pentatonix's creativity, while a relatively straightforward take of Lil Nas X's viral hit "Old Town Road" was a natural crowd-pleaser.

But the members of Pentatonix are so good at what they do and so eager to please (they offered several thank yous after many songs Tuesday) that they can afford to take some risks.

There was a cover of London artist Cosmo Sheldrake's "Come Along," dressed in ornate choral runs, the performance sonically and visually recalling the trippy aesthetic of "Alice in Wonderland."

And even in a packed Fiserv Forum, the members of Pentatonix put down their individual microphones to huddle together and sing the original song "Run to You," around a lone mic that stood at hip's length, and the audience was respectful enough to remain silent. 

“It’s still so crazy to see this many people at an a cappella show,” Olusola said late in the show. “We never dreamed this big.”

Now the question is how big can it get.

Hannah Mrozak of Milwaukee sings with her fellow Citizen Queen members Cora Isabel, Kaylah Sharve’, Kaedi Dalley and Nina Nelson at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

The opening acts 

Rachel Platten had an actual band for her half-hour set — including a touring guitarist she said was from Milwaukee — but the voice again was the central component, selling the hard-earned optimism of uplifting anthems like “Broken Glass” and her breakout smash “Fight Song.” 

And Milwaukee’s own Hannah Mrozak, a standout contestant on Season 13 of NBC’s “The Voice,” took the stage Tuesday as part of Citizen Queen, an all-female a cappella group signed to RCA Records and put together by some of the creatives behind Pentatonix. Mrozak’s soulful mezzo seized the spotlight for Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” but she’s exceptionally complemented by her four fellow vocalists, evident on a spirited medley, “Evolution of Girl Groups,” that spanned from the Sheboygan-born Chordettes to Fifth Harmony.

The takeaways 

  • Pentatonix brought out Platten to sing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" with them, who showed up onstage wearing a cheesehead, and showed off the beatboxing skills she used for a cappella groups in high school.
  • During Platten’s set, she came out into the crowd, hugging and dancing with fans and security for “Stand By You.” She was also pretty candid about her anxiety as a new mom before performing a new single she wrote for her now four-and-a-half-month-old daughter, “You Belong.”
  • Mrozak has a loud section of fans upfront who cheered loudly when she gave them a shout-out during the Citizen Queen set. “This is a dream come true,” she said before leaving the stage. “I love you, Mom; I love you, Dad.”
  • If you missed out on Pentatonix Tuesday, you have another chance to see them in Wisconsin. The tour stops at the Resch Center in Green Bay Sunday.

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Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at

Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.

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