Thursday, April 1, 2010

Orchestral Maneuvers

Pink Martini, with the Cleveland Orchestra (Conducted by James Feddeck)
30 March 2010: Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio

“Pink Martini is a rollicking around-the-world musical adventure… If the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we’d be that band.”
– Thomas Lauderdale, bandleader/pianist

When we first discovered Pink Martini, I assumed we would never have the opportunity to see this quirky music collective from Portland, Oregon live. But for the third time in six-and-a-half years, we have been fortunate enough to witness the “little orchestra” in person, every venue different, every time offering something new.

The first time we saw them, it was around the time their second album, Hang on Little Tomato, was released. The venue was the Cleveland Museum of Art auditorium, and it was spectacular. The acoustics were the best of any venue we’ve seen them in, and it was the only time we’ve seen them play “Que Sera Sera” live, with its revelatory swirling calliope-from-hell menace. Pure genius.

The second show was at the Cleveland House of Blues. They were touring behind their third album, Hey Eugene! We attended with friends and had an opera box to ourselves. It was a perfect setting in the sense of being able to cut a little loose and dance and move with the music.

Now, Pink Martini is doing an orchestra tour behind Splendor in the Grass, with a stop at venerated Severance Hall and backed by the Cleveland Orchestra. The venue was visually impressive, and the orchestra’s acoustics (both Pink Martini and the Cleveland Orchestra) were fantastic, but the vocals were set way down low in the mix, making it hard to hear lyrics and between song banter at times.

The show opened with one of my all-time favorite Pink Martini tunes, “Bolero”. In this setting, with the full Orchestra backing them, it was transcendent. This commanding instrumental was followed by singer China Forbes’ entrance, and continued an impeccable song selection that pulled from all four albums, hitting nearly every high-point necessary to make the night special. There was the traditional Turkish “Uskudar” (made famous by Eartha Kitt in the ’50s), the playful one-two of “And Then You’re Gone”/“But Now I’m Back” from Splendor in the Grass. “Sympathique” and “Donde Estas, Yolanda?”, both from their debut, also showed up in the first set.

The second set opened with one of Tracy’s all-time favorites, “Amado Mio”, and included a rollicking (considering the venue and audience) rendition of “Hey Eugene” and a beautiful reading of “Over the Valley” and the title song off the new album. Amazing, stirring moments from cellist Pansy Chang complimented Forbes’ reading of the Croatian song, “U Plavu Zoru”, and Robert Taylor’s always-impressive vocal and trombone work on “Veronique”. Multiple encores closed out the show, and an announcement that the band would be available for a signing in the lobby after the concert.

We made our way to the lobby, saw the line wasn’t too long, and decided to hop in it and meet the band (Forbes was the only no-show for the signing). Thomas Lauderdale, mastermind behind the music collective, was up first at the long table of Pink Martini members. He was quick to jump up and pose for photos and chat with us, and all the other band members were gracious and kind, if seeming somewhat (and understandably) tired.

While not the best Pink Martini show from an acoustic perspective, it was still a great show in an amazing venue. It’s criminal to bury Forbes’ soaring vocals, but the song selection was above reproach and we’re already looking forward to the next time Pink Martini comes through town.

"Let's Never Stop Falling in Love"
(from Discover the World: Live in Concert DVD)

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