‘Hans Zim­mer Live’ a con­flu­ence of style, con­cept and ex­e­cu­tion

Two-hour fi­nale pays trib­ute to his­tory of rock in study of de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Wei-Huan Chen wchen@chron.com

If Aphex Twin and Richard Wag­ner had a lovechild, it’d be a lot like the sec­ond act of “Hans Zim­mer Live” — tur­bu­lent, pri­mor­dial, math­e­mat­i­cal. While the first half of the con­cert fea­tur­ing one of the world’s best known film score com­posers is fun but noisy and di­rec­tion­less, the two-hour fi­nale that oc­curs af­ter in­ter­mis­sion is both a trib­ute to clas­si­cal, elec­tronic and rock his­tory and a study in de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion. “This is go­ing to get weird,” Zim­mer told a quiet, at­ten­tive crowd at the Smart Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre on Fri­day night dur­ing act two. “You’ll make it through.”

Mak­ing it through might be Zim­mer’s words for yet-an­other night of his grand mul­ti­me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion fea­tur­ing a full band, an orches­tra and a choir. But sit near the stage where the lights shower down on you and you can feel the bass in your chest, and sud­denly it’s a gross un­der­state­ment for what feels like en­ter­ing into a worm­hole from “In­ter­stel­lar.”

This is how he did it: Zim­mer’s band defers to a con­tra­bass solo in an ex­tended pro­logue that gave the au­di­ence no rec­og­niz­able tune, nor any fist-in-the-air cli­max. It was a build-up too pro­tracted, too eerily mor­dant to truly be­long in a show cre­ated solely for movie fans.

An amal­gam of themes

But that’s not what “Hans Zim­mer Live” is about. Sure, Zim­mer is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent to Hol­ly­wood’s cur­rent ob­ses­sion with se­quels and su­per­hero movies, so it makes sense to as­sume that his tour­ing act would have el­e­ments of what de­fines ev­ery Comic-Con, Harry Pot­ter screen­ing with live orches­tra or Marvel movie — fan ser­vice. No, his show didn’t sport masked avengers or men of steel. But there was a lot of metal.

Metal was bassist Yolanda Charles dig­ging into her in­stru­ment with thump­ing, repet­i­tive lines while cel­list Tina Guo dis­torts her in­stru­ment so that it re­sem­bles a throaty elec­tric gui­tar. Metal was a stormy au­ral land­scape that was all bass and no tenor, then icy open chords lay­ered over drum­mer Sat­nam Ram­go­tra’s er­ratic solo. The twitch of a drum set, crack­ling like fire un­der the lan­guid acous­tics of pi­ano and string? That’s the Aphex Twin in­flu­ence. Then comes the Wag­ner in the form a Valkyrie-es­que choir, a re­minder that this elec­tronic din is made by and for hu­mans. The vo­cals sound like a rev­e­la­tion, but what else did you ex­pect? Say what you will about the com­poser’s no­to­ri­ous bwah-bwah’s in “In­cep­tion.” Zim­mer showed that he still loves the tri­umphant, me­dieval sound of the choir.

Tech­ni­cally speak­ing, the piece was an amal­gam of the themes to “The Thin Red Line” and “The Amaz­ing Spi­der-Man 2.” But mashed to­gether and pre­sented as a build-up to the po­lice-siren tease to “The Dark Knight,” that sec­ond-act in­ter­lude was a stand­alone achieve­ment — a com­po­si­tion in and of it­self that showed that Zim­mer was never in­ter­ested in mak­ing a movie mu­sic mix­tape. He wanted a show.

Bashed to rocks

And boy, did that sec­ond act tell a story. He wanted us to wait for the rec­og­niz­able, ask­ing us to live in the mo­ment even it was one of un­fa­mil­iar­ity and sus­pense. When the cli­max fi­nally ar­rived, Zim­mer took the mic. Backed by in­ter­mit­tent flashes of pur­ple spot­lights and per­cus­sive claps, he spoke about the death of “The Dark Knight” star Heath Ledger and about the Aurora, Colorado shoot­ing at a screen­ing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Zim­mer kept the mu­sic of the Bat­man films “punky” and “chaotic,” he said, to honor the mem­ory of Ledger’s Joker. And the Aurora story pref­aced a mu­si­cal trib­ute to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies, a water­color can­vas painted with pedal tones and sus­tained chords that led to the mi­nor-key or­gans of “In­ter­stel­lar.”

Look­ing back, turns out the first act was just an hors d’oeu­vre. The en­trance of singer Lebo M., known as the first voice you hear in the movie “Lion King,” brought buoy­ancy to an oth­er­wise moody start of the evening. And the band was elec­tric in its first-act closer, which fea­tured Guo solo­ing over the “Pi­rates of the Caribbean” theme. But “Hans Zim­mer Live” still verged on the gim­micky as a con­cept that would prob­a­bly lose its ap­peal on sec­ond view­ing. At first. What a re­lief, then, to have those thoughts bashed to rocks.

As some­one who col­lab­o­rates with artists like Ri­d­ley Scott and Christo­pher Nolan, it makes sense that Zim­mer knows how to put on a grand fi­nale. If noth­ing else, his per­for­mance showed that artists are once again tak­ing movie mu­sic se­ri­ously. The trib­ute to rock ‘n’ roll that is the film “Baby Driver;” the pop hit-gen­er­at­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of “Pitch Per­fect,” “De­spi­ca­ble Me 2” and “Trolls;” and the ca­reer of Ra­dio­head gui­tarist Johnny Green­wood, who has com­posed eight film scores, are just a few ex­am­ples of this re­cent phe­nom­e­non.

Ocean of sound

But Zim­mer stands tallest among these artists. He cer­tainly felt like a gi­ant when he threw his fist in the air (fi­nally) while an ocean of sound poured out of the stage. The fi­nale felt like the end of a Nolan film, ex­cept the star that night wasn’t named Leonardo or Chris­tian. It wasn’t even named Hans, re­ally. It was the mu­sic, pre­sented in the way that made that sur­pris­ing “The Thin Red Line” mo­ment feel both Wag­ne­r­ian and mod­ern — a inim­itable con­flu­ence of style, con­cept and ex­e­cu­tion.

Gary Foun­tain

The pro­duc­tion of “Hans Zim­mer Live” rocked out Fri­day night at Smart Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre in Su­gar Land.

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