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Review: Karmin goes from classical training to Columbus stage

Karmin performs at Newport Music Hall April 19.  Credit: Mark Batke / For The Lantern

Amy Heidemann (left) and Nick Noonan perform as Karmin at Newport Music Hall April 19.
Credit: Mark Batke / For The Lantern

Karmin boasts a new, uncharted model in the pop genre.

The blueprints of the duo in itself, consisting of Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan, aren’t unique. Music has exhibited the power of the dyad for decades from the likes of famous twosomes Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher and Johnny and June.

However, the Top 40 doesn’t exactly embrace the concept of a two-person group. In fact, in the sea of solo acts and boy bands amongst Billboard’s pop-induced ranks, the only pair in practice is Macklemore and his inconspicuous other half, Ryan Lewis.

“That’s the thing — there really isn’t a model for (musical duos),” Noonan said in an interview with The Lantern before Karmin’s show at the Newport Saturday. “You know, Ryan Lewis … he’s more of just straight production. He’s never really coming out (singing). He just comes out (and says), ‘Put your hands up.’”

Noonan admits his role is a bit similar, though. Since Karmin broke out, Heidemann has graced the cover of “Rolling Stone” and saw most of the camera time in the group’s “Saturday Night Live” performance in 2012.

During Saturday’s show, Noonan’s role was much the same. He was more often seen providing backup, behind the keyboard or his royal blue trombone, while Heidemann took control of the melodies that make Karmin famous.

However, Karmin’s new album and first LP “Pulses,” which released March 25 and was the main focus of the duo’s 16-song set Saturday night, displays Noonan’s vocal prowess, notably taking the chorus of the album’s title track and opening what could possibly be Karmin’s new single, “Hate to Love You.”

Not surprisingly, Noonan sings with as much technicality and soul as his better half, which makes sense, given the couple’s similar credentials.

Hailing from opposite sides of the country, Heidemann and Noonan met in the middle at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“The plan was, for me, coming from Nebraska, I wanted to be like an R&B superstar, and Nick came from a small town in Maine and he wanted to be a trombonist,” Heidemann said.

Noonan and Heidemann took their classical training from the esteemed mix of musicians at Berklee and threw it into the mediocrity of YouTube’s grab bag of talent soon after graduation. In a period of a year or two, the duo covered around 14 songs — mostly of the hip-hop, R&B genre. The duo’s claim to fame, though, was in their melodic rendition of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now,” which has received more than 89 million views on YouTube, an appearance on “Ellen” and a nod at the end of Karmin’s Saturday night set.

Karmin’s concert Saturday probably received views only in the hundreds, but Heidemann’s ability to rap and enunciate as clearly and quickly as Busta Rhyme can spit took the crowd’s noise level up to the highest of decibels.

The Chris Brown cover is far from the only place Heidemann exhibited such fast articulation. Her talent, something that stemmed from listening to Jay-Z on Mariah Carey singles in her younger years, she said, is heard in many — if not the majority — of “Pulse’s” tracks.

Heidemann’s “vocal percussion,” as Noonan calls it, has since become a fixture in Karmin’s identity, in part because of some convincing by Noonan, she said.

“For rap, you can say a lot more … there’s more energy to it,” Noonan said. “You have a lot more freedom, and you have a lot more time to say something. With singing … it’s four minutes later and you only have (sung) three words.”

“I feel you can be a little more irreverent,” Heidemann added. “You can just say whatever is on your mind, where when you put it to a melody, it’s more formal.”

A lot was said by way of rap in Karmin’s Saturday performance of “Acapella,” a song that narrates the balance of searching for a man with heart and a man with money. Noonan and Heidemann were perhaps at their most energetic during the song, dancing in each other’s faces the entire time.

In real life, though, Heidemann’s search for a man has been over for awhile with the duo’s recent engagement, and the couple’s joint musical venture in Karmin keeps the two constantly in each other’s faces.

“This is the thing that sucks is we are always together. Always together. And it’s like, business, career, relationship, it’s all in one, so we have to take days off from each other,” Heidemann said. “We were trying to think of another couple that is in the same situation, and I can’t think of one. I thought Beyoncé and Jay-Z, but they’re not in the same band.”

Heidemann admitted each other’s constant company provides the lyricism for “a good amount” of the material written on “Pulses.” The album’s title in and of itself derives from the ups and downs the two experienced while producing the album, she said during Saturday’s concert before belting the duo’s conventional ballad, “Neon Love.”

There are very few times Heidemann and Noonan are separate in both physicality and song. However, Heidemann said her more R&B focused musical style differs from Noonan’s jazz roots.

“We joke about this, but it might actually happen someday, doing like a ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ thing, like OutKast had. The two members each did one album, and then they sold it together,” Heidemann said.

Together, though, Heidemann and Noonan live up to their band’s name, which means “song” in Latin.

Ending the set with “Brokenhearted” and Heidemann’s signature “cheerio” at the end of the song’s chorus (which she said she believes provided the song a “double punch” to become the hit that it is), the two took off, planning to take Sunday off before their Cleveland show Monday.

Karmin’s model for their duo works, and Noonan said he knew what exactly the model is. However, he admitted to needing more time for he and Heidemann to translate it for their audience and fans.

“There’s not really a (preexisting) model for it, you know, which is great because it’s new,” Noonan said. “But a lot of times, people have a hard time understanding what it is at first, because, there isn’t a (comparison). You know, ‘Is it like Katy Perry? I don’t understand.’ So, in that aspect, it’s challenging, but we like that.”

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