Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 11:13 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Eine Kleine Movie Musik with Hans Zimmer

Santa Barbara Bowl performance showcases selections from the German composer's catalog

Backed by a rock group, an orchestra and a choir, Hans Zimmer performed his inspired movie compositions at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday. Click to view larger
Backed by a rock group, an orchestra and a choir, Hans Zimmer performed his inspired movie compositions at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

When asked recently why he decided to go out on tour, German movie score composer Hans Zimmer said it was to "give people an experience that they couldn't get anywhere else." And at the tour's final stop last Sunday night in Santa Barbara with a stage filled by a rock band, an orchestra and a choir, plus inspired projected visuals, we got a chance to see and hear what he was talking about. The verdict: Mission accomplished!

The show started with Zimmer at the piano for the playful piece "Driving" from Driving Miss Daisy, featuring the smooth soprano sax of Pedro Eustache. This was the gentle beginning of an amazing journey through reimagined selections from Zimmer's catalog of more than 100 movie scores.

An early highlight was a medley of songs from Gladiator, which Zimmer introduced by recalling a phone conversation in which director Ridley Scott asked him to compose the music for it, to which he responded, "What, a movie about men in skirts?" This started with a mesmerizing mix of vocals from Czarina Russell and duduk from Eustache, drawing on both ancient and New Age sensibilities. Like many of Zimmer's pieces, this built in intensity and dynamics to a majestic climax.

Also notable was a medley that started with the "Rain Man Theme," introduced as "Hans Plays the Piano," which morphed into "Thunderbird" from Thelma & Louise with a trippy Pink Floyd vibe thanks to the smokin' guitar work by Guthrie Govan. Afterward, Zimmer called Govan "the most dangerous man on this stage, without a shadow of a doubt," describing his playing by saying, "Every night it's right at the edge of catastrophe, which is what I love."

To me, the best piece of the night was the medley of Lion King songs. There was a gasp from the audience when we heard the opening Zulu chant "Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba," sung by "the true Lion King" Lebo M., who was on the original soundtrack. The medley included the moving choir-enhanced "This Land" and ended with the "Circle of Life Reprise," which brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation. Afterward, Zimmer revealed to the audience that Lebo M.'s daughter Refi was the other amazing vocalist for the medley. It should be mentioned that Zimmer won an Academy Award for Best Original Score for The Lion King, and this performance made clear that it was well-deserved.

This was followed by what was introduced as a cello concerto by Tina Guo, who was striking with her long hair, futuristic cello and joyful spirit. Zimmer promised that "she's going to play it with grace, and she's going to play it with love, and she's going to play it with beauty, and she's going to play it with fire. But most of all she's going to play it with some serious playfulness. And she's gonna knock your socks off." That she did, but the big surprise was that the "cello concerto" was actually the beginning of a medley of pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean. As a nice touch, there was a parrot on the accordion player's shoulder! This ended with the stirring "He's a Pirate" and another standing ovation.

The evening began on a gentle note, with Hans Zimmer at the piano for the playful piece “Driving” from “Driving Miss Daisy.”
The evening began on a gentle note, with Hans Zimmer at the piano for the playful piece “Driving” from “Driving Miss Daisy.” (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

And that's just a sampling of what happened before the intermission!

The post-intermission program was arguably more challenging, but it had its own set of rewards. It began with "You're So Cool" from True Romance, a marimba piece inspired by a Carl Orff piece used in the movie Badlands. This was followed by "Journey to the Line," with an almost minimalist pulsing intro and repetitive motif that grew in complexity and intensity. Next up was "Roll Tide" from Crimson Tide, in which Zimmer met the challenge of composing music that featured a choir for an action movie. Then came "160 BPM" from Angels & Demons, which to my ears also was inspired by Orff, being at least in the same time zone as the "Carmina Burana." But this had a particularly cool drum break led by Satnam Ramgotra and enhanced by strobe lights, so clearly the Orff influence only went so far.

The core of the second set was music from superhero movies, starting with a piece from Man of Steel that was dedicated to the road crew. This was followed by the doom metal of "Is She with You," after which Zimmer commented on the female featured players, "If you want to feel some real power, you bring the wonder women to the front of the stage." Continuing the super hero theme was "My Enemy/Paranoia" from Spider-Man 2, with creepy, whispered vocals.

Next up was a suite that could be dubbed "Eine Kleine Dark Knight Musik," drawn from the Dark Knight Batman trilogy. This had an industrial rock feel, a cool flickering video and a bit of evil-sounding chanting. In the calm after the storm, Zimmer talked about Heath Ledger's acclaimed portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, and said that after hearing of Ledger's death he thought about toning down the music, but realized that "the only way to truly honor this performance, and to truly honor the man, was to keep the danger, to keep the anarchy." Zimmer also talked movingly about the 2012 Aurora shooting at the screening of the last movie in the trilogy.

The second set closed with a medley from the movie Interstellar, with Zimmer ending up out front facing the players and soaking in the majesty of the sound. The encore featured selections from Zimmer's award-winning score for Inception.

All told, the audience was treated to more than two and a half hours of Zimmer's compositions, which showed an incredible amount of diversity without going down the road already taken by more traditional film composers like John Williams or Elmer Bernstein. One surmises that Zimmer never completely got the rock 'n' roll from his early years out of his system, and the evening's skillful blend of a rock group and an orchestra and a choir playing inspired compositions was what truly gave the people an experience that they couldn't get anywhere else.

Setlist

» Driving (Driving Miss Daisy)
» Discombobulate (Sherlock Holmes)
» Rescue Me / Zoosters Breakout (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa)
» Gladiator medley
» Rain Man Theme
» Thunderbird (Thelma & Louise)
» Chevaliers de Sangreal (The Da Vinci Code)
» The Lion King medley
» Pirates of the Caribbean medley

Intermission

» You're So Cool (True Romance)
» Journey to the Line (The Thin Red Line)
» Roll Tide (Crimson Tide)
» 160 BPM (Angels & Demons)
» What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? (Man of Steel)
» Is She With You? (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman)
» My Enemy/Paranoia (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
» The Dark Knight Suite Aurora
» Interstellar medley

Encore

» Inception medley

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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