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Leaving Las Vegas

Liz Byrum | Monday, September 5, 2005

On Friday night, the Leighton Concert hall felt more like it was in Las Vegas, Nev. than Notre Dame, Ind.

The group Toxic Audio, which is gaining recognition and recently played its first Las Vegas show at the Luxor Hotel on Aug. 19, made a one-night appearance on campus and blew the crowd away with its amazing vocal stretches, harmonies and theatrical performance.

Toxic Audio, founded in 1998, has spent the last few years performing in New York City and other areas of the U.S. for various audiences. After a break this Christmas, the group will travel to Japan for a six-week tour. The group has also made appearances at various universities and schools of music, but Friday was its first visit to Notre Dame.

Toxic Audio can sing in a wide range of octaves and in a wide range of languages, as well. In one song Friday, Michelle Mailhot-Valines – the group’s bubbly blonde soprano – sang a song that jumped between Korean, German, Pig Latin and other languages without missing a beat.

As the members of Toxic Audio took their spots on stage, people all around the theatre were shocked at the sounds the singers were making purely with their voices. Toxic Audio founder Rene Ruiz said the opening number is one of his favorites because it “introduces the audience to what we’re going to do.”

“It’s great looking out at the crowd at this time and sensing their discovery,” he said.

The show was a successful start to the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts’ second season. A large crowd filled Leighton Concert Hall Friday evening, with audience members from Notre Dame and the South Bend community.

A few of the people in the audience even got the chance to spend some time on stage with the group. During the skits that Toxic Audio performed, one of the singers came down into the audience, grabbed an unsuspecting audience member and helped him onstage.

Each member of the group was given the chance to showcase their special talents at some point during the show. Jeremy James freestyled a rap made up of words audience members chose out of a book. Cheers erupted when James finished the rap with a rhyme about Notre Dame. One member of the audience called James’ wife, Shalisa’s, performance of “Stand by Me” “the most beautiful version of that song I’ve ever heard.”

Ruiz showcased his bass voice with a mock string bass solo. Ruiz also took part in many skits throughout the show that had the audience roaring with laughter.

The final number of the evening was an extended version of the song, “Turn the Beat Around.” The group’s beat-boxer extraordinaire, Paul Sperrazza, stole the number when he broke into an amazing beat box routine that made it hard to believe he was only using his mouth.

The mixture of musical genres held the audience’s attention throughout the show because they never knew what they were going to hear next. A cover of the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” had people moving in their seats and was even accompanied by James juggling a few paperback books.

One of the more theatrical concepts of the night occurred when a woman was brought on stage to “watch TV” with the group. A remote control clicked the performers went through different television theme songs.

The end of this performance included two of the group members taking off their shirts and dancing behind the woman from the audience. This was an amusing touch for the older members of the crowd but may have been a little much for the under-10 audience that had been seen filing into the theatre with their parents.

No matter what crazy antics Toxic Audio performed on the stage, they continued to amaze with their sound-making abilities. The searing guitar solos, animal noises and incredible harmonies left a feeling of wonder and amazement with the crowd as the performers exited Leighton Concert Hall.

It’s obvious that Toxic Audio members are doing so well in Las Vegas because they know what they’re doing, and they are doing it well.