Film-music concerts are big business now. John Williams, long a staple on the concert circuit, has been joined by Danny Elfman and others while live-to-picture concerts are now all the rage among symphony orchestras in the U.S. and Europe.
So leave it to Hans Zimmer to try something different. The German-born, London-raised, and now L.A.-based composer has always gone his own way and has become a major influence on how 21st-century films are scored and what they sound like.
At his heart, Zimmer likes being in a band. He often surrounds himself with friends and collaborators and is renowned for his generosity in doling out credit (“additional music by” is commonplace on many Zimmer films). So when he decided to do a “greatest hits” tour, he didn’t want a 70-piece orchestra – he wanted a rock ‘n’ roll band, with featured soloists.
But he also wanted just enough of an orchestra and a small choir to remind concertgoers of what attracted them to his music in the first place. And in his nearly three-hour show, caught Friday night at the Shrine Auditorium, there wasn’t a single image from any of his movies projected on the screen behind the musicians. He didn’t even mention most of the titles.
It’s a risky idea for a film-music concert; one wonders how he convinced promoter Harvey Goldsmith that this could work. And yet it does, transforming familiar movie themes into rock anthems complete with electric guitar solos and a massive battery of pounding drums. (At least they were real drums and not the samples that populate so many film scores nowadays.)
Zimmer kept the surprises coming throughout. It’s hard to imagine any other rock concert opening with the mischievous theme for “Driving Miss Daisy” (Zimmer himself on piano); turning the theme for “The Da Vinci Code” into a showcase for an elaborate violin solo; or winding it up with a 12-minute fantasia for organ, orchestra, and choir from the score for “Interstellar.”
The 6,000 in attendance at the Shrine ate most of it up, although the biggest cheers were reserved for the biggest movie hits: “Gladiator” (with Czarina Russell doing the vocals made famous in the original by Lisa Gerrard); “The Lion King” (with South African-born Lebo M. reprising his chants from the Oscar-winning original); and the composer’s already-iconic theme from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.
The latter was an unexpected surprise. He introduced the piece as a “cello concerto” for electric cello soloist Tina Guo, which several minutes later morphed into the swashbuckling “Pirates” theme to the delight of the crowd.
Interestingly, highlights from the second act mostly involved elaborate and entrancing video backdrops to the music, a reminder that all of this was created in service to visual media: the melancholy minimalism of “The Thin Red Line” and the alternately hypnotic and powerful music of “Inception,” which served as the encore and on which Zimmer played both piano and guitar.
Along the way, he dropped in themes from “Rain Man,” “Thelma and Louise,” “Sherlock Holmes” (Zimmer on banjo!), and a couple of themes from recent comic-book movies (“Man of Steel” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), but the strongest audience reaction was for a 15-minute suite from the “Dark Knight” movies that started with his creepy Joker theme and ended with his chugging, ever-building theme for Batman.
Most of Zimmer’s between-song patter involved telling the backstories of his bandmates and soloists. He did pause briefly to talk about the tragedy of actor Heath Ledger’s death and his horror at learning about the 2012 mass killings during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.
Zimmer winds down his world tour this weekend in San Diego and Santa Barbara, then returns next week to the quietude of his Remote Control studios in Santa Monica – proving once more that this supremely successful yet almost entirely self-taught musician can never be counted out. He keeps reinventing himself, and the film-music business.