Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pink Martini @ The Barbican

If you've never heard of the Oregon-based 12-piece band called Pink Martini, chances are, you've heard their songs  in commercials, movies, or maybe even your favorite cafe or book shop. 

Still not convinced?  How about this:

Now do you believe me?  Or maybe you're two steps ahead of me (which wouldn't be surprising, since I'm usually quite slow on the uptake) and have been fans of Pink Martini for a long, long time.  In that case, you won't share the embarrassment I felt last night sitting in the sold-out audience at The Barbican.  'How nice,' I thought.  'A cover of a French classic.'  Um, no ... they wrote that. 

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be treated to tickets to see Pink Martini at the Barbican.  I love the Barbican because it's huge and an exciting venue to be in but having only been in the hall for classical music concerts, I'd forgotten how limiting it is to be seated for concerts like these.  After all, Pink Martini makes you want to automatically get up out of your seats and, well, dance.  It was lovely to see people try to combat this feeling of repressed-dance-syndrome by dancing in their seats or vigorously bobbing their heads to the music.  During their encore, the band invited some of their friends and family to the stage for musical participation and dancing, then extended this invite to the rest of the audience (and if you've ever been to the Barbican, you'll know how dangerous this invitation could be!).

If you have time, read the "about" section of their website.  Self-described as the band the "United Nations" would form if they "had a houseband in 1962", Pink Martini was founded by the pianist and bandleader, Thomas Lauderdale (whose pianistic skills are mind-blowing, btw), in 1994.  If I ventured a guess, I'd classify their music as dreaded-music-store-term "world".  What their sound actually resembles, however, is old-Hollywood nostalgia of the '40s or '50s - something fit for warbling out of a retro radio.  Belting out songs in Spanish, Portuguese, French and even Japanese, singer China Forbes' powerhouse voice is certainly impressive.  But perhaps the most astounding aspect of Pink Martini's musicianship is their versatility as instrumentalists: every member plays an instrument (or two) and some of instrumentalists lend their voices to the background vocals.  They perform this way with an incredibly laid-back, chilled attitude but impeccable professionalism.  I spent most of the show with my mouth open in admiration.  Listening to them interact with the audience in their relaxed way suddenly made me miss America and Americans in general, especially when Lauderdale made quips like, "This song was inspired by Schubert plus a little bit of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive' and some African beats."  Priceless.

This was my favorite song of the evening, but do check out their albums:

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