If you asked me a year ago for a list of bands I don’t ever expect to get the opportunity to see, it might include A Perfect Circle, Alter Bridge, and pretty much any great composer, like Nobuo Uematsu or Hans Zimmer. Except Hans Zimmer has been touring lately, even taking the time to play a set at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki on May 16th, 2017, and so we had to be there to see what sort of show that one of the best composers in the world might put on.
Listen along with the set on Spotify:
If you’ve read my review of Score: Orchestral Game Music from some time ago, or even of Sunrise Avenue‘s show in 2015, you’d know that I am a sucker for anything orchestrated, and as it happens, Hans Zimmer has written some of my all-time favorite movie scores, a few of which were promised in this set. This show was, as such, a do-or-die situation for me.
The biggest arena in town (and possibly in the country) had sold out for the event and we showed up with plenty of time to find our seats before the lights dimmed. What was amazing was that, unlike nearly every show I’ve ever seen in any arena, there were no empty seats. People bought their tickets to this show and they showed up. The stage revealed nothing but a collection of instruments and a large curtain, and when the lights dimmed, the maestro himself appeared on stage to uproarious applause. They started the set with a medley of “Driving”, “Discombobulate”, and “Zoosters Breakout” from Driving Miss Daisy, Sherlock Holmes, and Madagascar respectively. The progression was perfect, as Zimmer started alone at the piano under a spotlight. He was then joined by his band in the front row, all still in front of the curtain. And then, of course, when they hit “Zoosters Breakout”, the curtain rose to reveal the orchestra behind them. It was epic and perfect. The choice of songs too – I wouldn’t have expected the scores from those three movies to go so well together, but they did! I could feel my heart racing by the time they finished.
It’s worth mentioning too, that I hadn’t known there would be a separate band from the orchestra. I had been under the impression that, much like Score, this would just be an orchestra with Zimmer introducing and conducting at the front, as opposed to a performance with a band. Zimmer himself was more chatty than I would have expected as well, introducing band members between nearly every song, particularly if one of them was going to be showcased, or had been in the previous song. He told bits of backstory about the songs, such as arguing with the producers about using a choir for “Roll Tide”, or a humorous anecdote about his wife’s reaction to him agreeing to do Gladiator and how it required a female soul, after which Lisa Gerard came on board (though not without feeling guilty that this was her second Russell Crowe movie in recent history). He explained that The Lion King‘s score was about Lebo Morake, the original vocalist who happened to be with them for the show, and gave us backstory on the incredible cellist from China who had been playing strings since the age of 3, among others.
Musically, I couldn’t have asked for more in the first half of the show. “Roll Tide” was haunting and the choir made my hair stand on end; it also showed off perhaps the coolest drummer with the coolest beard ever. I wasn’t familiar with “160 BPM”, but it was wondrous to hear. The medley/collection from Gladiator, combined with the images on the backing screen, made me feel as if I really was in an ancient Colosseum in Rome watching battles to the death, and the addition of vocals (not just the replacement for Lisa Gerard, but the violinist who joined in to harmonize as well) was gorgeous. The blend of classical and modern in The Da Vinci Code was really cool. The Lion King was nothing short of perfection from start to finish and made me realize how badly I need to re-listen to the score of that movie, as I had forgotten how great it is (score, incidentally, should not be confused with soundtrack, which are the Elton John songs). Lebo M. sounded exactly like he did in the original soundtrack, as though 20+ years hadn’t passed. And the Pirates of the Caribbean collection was… well, it left me speechless and buzzing. Those are some of my favorite scores ever and to hear songs like “Up is Down” and “He’s a Pirate” live was pretty much life-changing. It’s a rare occasion that I feel such a physical thrill watching live music these days.
And then we had an intermission. At this point, I will admit that the first half of the show was better than the second half – it had more bombastic and emotional music, for one, and also the most familiar to me, in Driving Miss Daisy, Sherlock, Gladiator, The Lion King, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The second half started after the break with some light xylophone notes to lure people back to their seats, and they began with “You’re So Cool” from True Romance. After this, he introduced Gary Kettel, and told the story of how they met 30 years ago during Zimmer’s first orchestra. He wasn’t sure how well he had done, but Kettel turned to him, gave him a thumbs up, and said, “Way-hay!” It’s kind of their thing now, and as it was Kettel’s birthday, he had the crowd shout, “Way-hay!” to him a few times in celebration.
The show then continued with “Thunderbird” from Thelma and Louise, with the glorious fluffy-haired hippy-looking fellow taking most of the spotlight with his sexy-sax -like guitars. Zimmer then introduced “some superhero stuff” before the unnecessarily long-named “What are You Going to Do When You are Not Saving the World?” from Man of Steel. The superhero stuff, however, was broken up by “Journey to the Line” from Thin Red Line – an interesting and anxiety-inducing piece with a red backing screen that turned into what almost seemed like slow-motion dubstep at some point. The superheroes then returned with music from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight trilogy. Zimmer told a wonderful story about the sad loss of Heath Ledger and the tragedy following the shooting during the The Dark Knight Rises premiere, and in the end, the moral was that the world is not a better place since then, but everyone on stage from all over the world had come together making music in their hearts and they were playing from their hearts. They then set into “Aurora” from the likewise-named film. Music from Interstellar then closed out the show before he returned to thank the audience, the choir, the orchestra, the band, and again, the audience, for everything, before the encore of music from Inception, and then everyone took their bows as people cheered and gave a standing ovation – a very well-deserved ovation, if I do say so!
On the whole, I do think that I enjoyed Score more than this (exclusively for the reason that I knew almost all of the music, whereas here I knew only about half), yet this combination of band/orchestra made for an absolutely fantastic performance and the 3 hours simply blew by. Some of the band were clearly rock stars in an alternate universe, with how cool and easily they played (I’m looking at you, cellist and bearded drummer). I had chills, my heart raced, and I generally felt parts of my body (like my eyeballs) straining toward the stage to be closer to everything that was happening. I would have loved to hear some music from The Holiday, as I adore its score, though frankly I understand its omission – it’s not the best movie, story-wise. Truly though, this was by far one of, if not the best shows I’ve seen this year so far, and someone will have to work pretty damn hard to top it!
1. Driving / Discombobulate / Zoosters Breakout
(from Driving Miss Daisy, Sherlock Holmes and Madagascar)
2. Crimson Tide
– Roll Tide
3. Angels & Demons
– 160 BPM
– The Wheat
– The Battle
– Now We Are Free
5. The Da Vinci Code
– Chevaliers de Sangreal
6. The Lion King
– Circle of Life (prelude) (with Lebo M)
– This Land (with Lebo M)
– King of Pride Rock / Circle of Life (with Lebo M)
7. Pirates of the Caribbean
– Jack Sparrow
– One Day
– Up is Down
– He’s a Pirate
8. True Romance
– You’re So Cool
9. Thelma & Louise
10. Man of Steel
– What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?
11. Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice
– Is She With You? (Wonder Woman Theme)
12. The Thin Red Line
– Journey to the Line
13. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
– The Electro Suite
14. The Dark Knight Trilogy
– Why So Serious?
– Like a Dog Chasing Cars / Why Do We Fall? / Introduce a Little Anarchy
– Gotham’s Reckoning / The Fire Rises
– Day One
– Where We’re Going
– No Time for Caution
– Dream is Collapsing