Last Friday, Jan. 24, marked the end of a months-long journey for the performers involved in the first annual WMUH Radio Riff-Off Showcase. After months of auditioning and then competing last October for a moment in the light, Radio Riff-Off winner Michael Sova ‘20 and runner-up and fan favorite Zach Delecce ‘20 shone on stage last Friday night.
The Red Door was half-lit when the doors opened at 8 p.m. sharp, the seats mostly shrouded in shadow and the stage lit up in golden light. There was catering of mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders and other similar snacks, and some sixty to seventy people hovered, chatted and munched away as they waited for the show to start.
At 8:30, Michelle Rajan ‘21, business director of WMUH, introduced the two artists. Delecce took the stage, saying, “I hope you have a good time! If you don’t like it, you can yell at us later.”
Delecce was dressed casually, but not a hair was out of place as he opened the night by strumming on his guitar and serenading the audience with “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers. He was mostly stoic between songs as he shuffled his sheet music and told us what song he’d be playing next. He alternated between a couple of original songs and a couple of covers of songs like Green Day’s “ Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Falling Slowly” from the musical Once. His singing voice took on a different quality than his deep speaking voice, with a lovely floating falsetto and some pleasant middle tones. What little he sang in his lower register had some beautiful resonance, and I would’ve liked to hear more.
After playing for about a half hour, Delecce ceded the stage to Sova, who immediately bounced on stage with his guitar, claiming, “All the stuff I’m about to play is stolen! Plagiarism!” He pushed off the more formal stage and down towards the audience, and started some impressive acoustic plucking, sans sheet music. His first song was playful, and he milked it, making funny faces during some lighter phrases to make the audience laugh.
While Sova didn’t sing until the very end of this first solo set, he stayed very vocal the whole time. The entire experience was almost like a lecture, with him building the sounds of different songs while telling the audience exactly who he was styling each piece after, what to enjoy and why. They took Sova’s advice and laughed and chatted back as he interjected throughout his own performance. He finished off his first set by singing a single song, keeping it mostly in his lower range, and while not masterful, it was perfectly pleasant, especially when paired with his awesome guitar prowess.
“I mean it’s always really funny seeing Sova’s personality come out in his performance,” commented Chris Dasaro ‘20. “I think I’ve seen play him a million times. I think he becomes more and more comfortable with his kind of quirkiness as a performer. Like he does some schtick before songs, or in between songs he’ll crack a few jokes that only Sova would make. So it’s funny seeing him really get a handle of his humor.”
After this last song, Sova called out to Delecce in the audience, who, seemingly infected with some of Sova’s frenetic energy, hopped up to the stage, where the two quickly sorted out an issue of a missing capo and started in on Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” with Sova providing instrumentation and Delecce gifting us with his voice.
When the two play began to play together, something wonderful emerged: Sova has a bubbly, somewhat chaotic energy about him, and every word he said sounded like he was about to laugh, whereas Delecce is more mellow, with a deep voice to match his larger stature. Delecce gave some balance and structure to the set, yet he seemed to genuinely enjoy Sova’s company. It resulted in palpable chemistry that allowed the two to play off of each other wonderfully, both musically and comically. When they played “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, they alternated phrases with Sova riffing wonderfully on the guitar and Delecce showcasing his dulcet tones, and it just worked.
Desiree Bsales ‘20 commented after the performance, “We were at the Riff-Off also, and seeing Zach [Delecce] and Michael [Sova] together, they have a lot of chemistry and a lot of compatibility with their music, so I wanted to see them for a longer period of time … It was amazing.”
After their joint set, Delecce retired to a table in the corner and Sova took over on guitar for one last group of songs. This time, he played a few touching original songs, a Beatles medley and closed with “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Of his own performance, Sova commented, “I had a lot of energy, [and the] crowd responded well. So I think it was almost perfect … This is my first time performing with somebody else on stage. So, you know, Zach and I have been working for the last few days like getting things down. And I think it went really well, you know, a few mistakes here and there. But overall, I’m really happy with how we did.”
“It was a lot of fun,” said Delecce. “We were both a little nervous just because we never really do concerts like this. But I think it went really well. I think people had a good time. So all in all, I think was good.”
When asked about his favorite part of the night, Delecce paused for a moment before answering, “Probably either playing originals or playing with Sova, just because that’s always really fun. And we worked pretty hard on the songs we were doing, so that was a really good time.”
Members of the WMUH board assured the audience that Radio Riff-Off will be returning next fall, so stay tuned to WMUH at 91.7FM for more information.