EHSSQ catch all
So what’s going on with southern gospel’s favorite
boy band dancing quartet these days? Well, last week it seems they headlined the Stamps-Baxter School of Music, to mostly rave reviews. Here’s an email I received a few days after the event:
I think what blew everyone away is that SigSound hauled in their whole lights/sound/backdrop, etc., for the show. They were dressed to the nines, etc., just as if it were a real concert. Ben Speer [who owns and runs the school] was visibly impressed with their show, and made jokes about adding a dance class to next year’s school, but he didn’t do it in a condescending way, but in a very flattering way, actually. No real surprises to their show, other just really giving it 110%.
Another correspondent confirmed this view:
At first I didn’t know why the group brought the “full enchilada.” Most acts come in casually and that’s understandable because it’s a summer school, but afterward I understood why they did it. The kids loved it. And they appeared to be buying a bunch of a product after the show.
Smart stuff indeed. I mean, it’s an audience of a coupla hundred kids who for the most part all want to be or become EHSSQ. If your audience has visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, it doesn’t hurt to show up in a big fat candy truck.
And anyway, it probably wasn’t that big of a deal for the group to pull the full enchilada since they were headed to the Gaither mothership for the Cathedrals tribute taping. The only complaint-like thing I’ve heard about the performance was their decision to sing “Old Convention Song.” And it was an odd choice. Despite the title, it’s not actually an old convention song, of course. Rather it’s about a bunch of other songs that are really old convention tunes. I mean, sure, they were probably rehearsing material for the Cats tribute album, since the Cats popularized the song way back when, but still … if you’re at a singing school that teaches convention singing, why not sing… you know, an actual convention song?
A few days later, the group recorded the Cats tribute. Daniel Mount has a descriptive summary of the event. So does Nate. Aside from a clunky segment with Bill Gaither near the middle of the show and an overheated auditorium that required a lot of breaks for makeup reapplication, it sounds like it went smoothly, at least from the email I’ve received (I’ve asked a friend to repost her email in comments for all to see).
In other words, Signature Sound has been a bunch of busy beavers. A recent commenter on another thread wonders why EHSSQ has largely stopped putting out new material since Dream On, but I suspect the group is playing a longer game than the one that measures a quartet’s success by whether it has a new project every year full of mostly mediocre tunes with a few cuts respectable enough to go to radio. They’ve spent the last few years establishing themselves at an increasing distance from the Homecoming crowd without actually breaking ties with Gaitherland. And now comes the Cats tribute recording, which will, I imagine, probably more or less cement the group’s claim to the George and Glen legacy, at least as a brand (that is, selling product and putting butts in seats by using the group’s connection to the Cats).
Thus, new music is really beside the point. They can do that, but so can (and does) everyone else. For EHSSQ it’s not really what their brand is about, as far as I can tell. And if this approach sounds familiar, … well, it is. In fact, it’s basically the Homecoming model writ small in a single group: Old favorites and a smattering of new stuff held together by a signature style. The glue is not the “new” but a certain way of producing and arranging and, of course, a very meticulously cultivated brand of singing and showmanship.
Sure, the breathy singing makes me wince, and the some of the more peacocky pretensions of the group’s onstage persona can be off putting, and Ernie’s emcee work gives me the willies a lot of the time and no they can’t really dance … but blah blah blah. It’s hard to argue with their commitment to what they see as their vision of quality or excellence or whatever you want to call it. And they’ve got the popularity and the success to show for it. This is impressive, particularly at a time when what are typically considered top-tier acts in the bidness count singing to a few hundred people at any given venue a good night. In other words, a lot of groups like to ride on the big-fish/small-bowl reputation of themselves as top-tier sg acts, but very few groups are actually achieving top-tier status in terms that wouldn’t be laughed at out outside sg. Or as one reader put it to me in an email:
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Maybe I’m just drinking the Signature Sound kool-aid these days, but you know what? They give a damn. They really do, and you can see it in their shows: they’re in shape and take care about their appearance and style. And from a performance angle, you don’t get that kind of precision on stage without rehearsing hours a day. And when you do that, then you can go out on stage and have fun for two hours! Because they know what they’re doing and they’re not stepping all over each other’s lines and pissed off at each other for screwing things up or missing opportunities. And then, when the concert is over and they stand around in their sweaty suits signing autographs and talking to fans for as long as it takes.
Maybe that’s why they can go to Lancaster, PA (no southern gospel stronghold!) and sell thousands of tickets (I’d guess upwards of 2500-3000ish when I saw them) and move a ton a product, if their table traffic is any rough guide.
A few weeks ago, I caught Gold City and frankly, it disgusted me. Seriously. I’ve been in the business for decades and I love it. Love it death, but unfortunately I think that’s what’s happening to so much of the music: a slow, agonizing death by the lazy performance of countless sloppy songs. Watching Gold City, I saw these arrogant men in their S&K suits get up there looking bored out of their minds belching out the same songs they’ve been wheeling out of cold storage for 20 years and they wonder why they can’t sell records anymore. Well, out of the 200 people who came to see you the night I was there (no doubt many of them out of respect for how you used to sing and perform), probably 150 of them will be dead in five years so you better come up with some new schtick fast because the clock is ticking on your tiny little kingdom, mister.