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Straight No Chase at Hollywood Bowl 7/22/16. Photo by David Benjamin (@IAmDB)

People who talk too much about musical arrangements are generally kind of like people who talk too much about a movie’s cinematography: there’s usually a strong chance that they are just trying to say that they like something’s general aesthetic, but in a way to make them sound smart.

A cappella music, however, gets a pass; unless you’re talking about actual choral music or, like, Billy Joel’s “For The Longest Time,” because a cappella arrangements require the participants to rethink a song from the bottom up in order to figure out how to make it work without instruments. Done well, it can make for a breathtaking spectacle – especially when, as Straight No Chaser demonstrated during the high points of their opening gig for Weird Al, you’re doing it in the context of a venue with the otherworldly physical majesty of the Hollywood Bowl.

The highlight of the group’s set was undoubtedly their take on Radiohead’s “Creep,” a weapon they wisely waited to bring out until the sun began to set. (Yes, they opted for the clean version.) The secret to “Creep,” after all, has always been the way it tucks a half-dozen outrageously compelling melodies into one three-and-a-half-minute rock song. An inventive a cappella group can come up with all kinds of deeply resonant ways to allow those melodies to soar to the surface, and Straight No Chaser absolutely delivered on that front.

If anything, their take on “Creep” was so skillfully executed that I wished they’d taken the same straightforwardly sincere approach to the rest of their set. After all, when you are opening for one of music’s best-known clowns, you might be better-served by playing against the evening’s type than by adding original lyrics to famous movie themes.

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