‘Hans Zimmer Live’ a confluence of style, concept and execution
Two-hour finale pays tribute to history of rock in study of delayed gratification
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.
The production of “Hans Zimmer Live” rocked out Friday night at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land.