Live Review: Hans Zimmer at Berkeley’s Greek (08/09/17)

The prolific, German-born film composer left the shadows behind in a triumphant performance.

Zimmer’s career began with The Buggles, whose song “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first song ever played on MTV. (Zack Ruskin)

A funny thing happened at Hans Zimmer’s concert Wednesday night at the Greek.

At the center of a stage packed with choir singers, string players, drummers, and guitarists, Zimmer sat a weathered piano, plunking out the opening notes to “Time” — a piece of score from Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film, Inception. And yet, there was not footage of Inception to be found, no screen projecting images from the movie as Zimmer and his orchestra set to work.

Instead, the focus was placed squarely where Zimmer wanted it: on the artists responsible for the some of the most iconic film scores of the past 30 years. Here was Tina Guo, a fiery and phenomenally gifted solo cellist. Here was Satnam Ramgorta, a drummer of peerless skill and limitless energy. While in no diminishing the importance of the films that have come to represent the bulk of Zimmer’s illustrious career, he rightly moved away from simply providing their soundtrack once again.

Instead, Zimmer showcased how powerful an orchestra flexing its muscle can be, giving those who came for love of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean or The Dark Knight perhaps their first taste of the extraordinary might an army of instruments can yield.

While the evening lasted over two-and-a-half hours, it was filled with enough thrills and spectacle to keep the crowd enthusiastically engaged. Before performing a selection of music from The Lion King, Zimmer brought out Lebo M., the vocalist who originally sang “Circle of Life.”

“I wrote The Lion King for my six-year-old daughter,” Zimmer told the crowd once the standing ovation that followed the number had subsided. “I couldn’t really take her to a Ridley Scott movie.”

Grasping Lebo by the shoulder, Zimmer also spoke of the political turmoil in South Africa underway at the time they recorded the music for The Lion King: “Inside there was music, and outside there was bloodshed.”

Zimmer’s unadulterated love for his fellow musicians was palpable throughout the evening. He called out their names, told brief anecdotes, and was quick to offer hugs and high-fives after various performers proved their merit at center stage. No artist made a bigger impact than Guo, however.

The 31-old cellist from Shanghai didn’t simply play her instrument; she romanced it. Performing under a spotlight for a suite of tracks from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Guo spun her cello, thrashed back her hair, and dazzled the audience as the notes from her cello appeared to physically vibrate through her being.

Indeed, Guo’s mesmerizing performance reflected the crowd as well. Coupled with a sometimes overwhelmingly intense light show, the blast of sound Zimmer and his compatriots created over and over again was staggering.

He managed to give a few breaks from the spectacle by taking the microphone to introduce tracks and share anecdotes from his career, which began in the late 1970s and took off in earnest after 1988’s Rain Man. After performing a selection of music from The Dark Knight trilogy, Zimmer eschewed the witticisms he’d been quick to disperse all evening to instead speak from the heart about the Aurora, Colo., shooting that took place in 2012 at a movie theater screening The Dark Knight Rises.

“Devastated,” Zimmer said, recalling the word he gave to the first journalist who called him and asked for his reaction to the tragedy.

It was the most somber moment in a mostly spirited affair — but, like any good film score, a range of emotions are required to fully convey a story’s complexity. The story of Zimmer’s concert ended with “Time,” arguably the composer’s finest work, a melancholic ode to a guiding force beyond our control. Used at the climax of Nolan’s Inception, the piece is staggering. Seen in the flesh, the effect is amplified, for no matter how brilliant the scenes for which “Time” was composed may be, they couldn’t compare to the ones we conjured ourselves as Zimmer’s fingers probed our minds in search of elusive answers.

People like to say that movies are magic. Well, Hans Zimmer is magic, too.

  

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