Hans Zimmer

Photos by Megan Moss

Photos by Megan Moss

By James Whitlock

Artist: Hans Zimmer

Date / Venue: Saturday April 29th, 2017 - Spark Arena, Auckland

Hans Zimmer is one of those composers for whom the vast majority of the western world will have heard, but not heard of. When telling friends and colleagues whose concert I was attending on Saturday night, I was generally greeted with blank faces… until I let slip he is the guy who wrote the music for Lion King, Gladiator, Inception, Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean and Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.  THEN they understood whom I was talking about… and got a bit jealous.

To my mind, the only other film score composer of the last 30 years who can compare… is John Williams (of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame).  And to be honest, I think that Zimmer’s music may have enriched his films to a greater degree. Just watch Mufasa’s death in The Lion King, the wheat scene in Gladiator, or the last 5 minutes of Inception to see how exceptionally powerful and emotive he can be. There is no dialogue in these scenes… just the magic of Hans Zimmer.

Modern composers like Zimmer and Williams… Elfman, Morricone, Horner, Howard, Vangelis and Shore… they really are the classical masters of today. If Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikowsky etc were alive in the 21st Century, you’d better believe they would be working in film.

So… fair to say I was pretty excited about this concert on a rainy Saturday night at the Spark (formerly Vector) Arena, although I’d avoided watching his live shows on YouTube so didn’t really know what to expect.

We (my 10 year old son and I) entered to a mostly full, and theatrically hazy, arena… with a brooding soundscape of random effects, including the odd freight train pass (foreshadowing Inception perhaps..?).

Musicians from NZ Opera and the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra entered the stage with the house lights up. It was 15 minutes past the scheduled start time, but it was cool… the audience’s mode was relaxed and playful.  The band, then Hans took the stage… and started things off with the theme from Driving Miss Daisy. Zimmer is a competent multi-instrumentalist, and he had made his way through three separate instruments before taking the mic to say hello.

He’s one of those guys who is a little awkward when he addresses an audience – ideas coming out sorta half-formed, and he tripped over his tongue and duffed a couple of introductions as the night went on. Still, I tend to prefer unrehearsed to rehearsed… particularly when you’re trying to get a sense of the man.

A little story about arguments he’s had with hollywood producers preceded The Crimson Tide, which was crazy epic with odd time, wailing guitar solos (from the inimitable Guthrie Govan – I was really delighted to see him in the band), and a huge 3-way drum solo. Little did we know… he hadn’t even thrown the epic switch yet.

We all knew that he would play music from Gladiator, but it was a huge surprise when he announced that Lisa Gerrardhad flown over from Melbourne, making it the first time they had performed on stage together since 2000.  You know those haunting hummed vocal melodies in all those films that made you cry? That’s Lisa Gerrard. I’ve never heard her say a word of English but her voice is instantly identifiable.  Tonight she took the stage, resplendent in a (slightly silly and OTT) opera diva-esque gold ball gown, but she delivered the emotion we all hoped for.

ZImmer wasn’t finished with the surprise guest stars either… because out of nowhere came the wonderful opening vocal from Circle of Life… and the man himself, Lebo Morake, took the stage with his daughter for a Lion King medley.  This was all kinds of awesome, but I did wish that they had played a couple of pieces in their entirety rather than an unfamiliar blend of familiar strains.

The final piece of Act I was another medley from Pirates of the Caribbean (featuring Tina Guo on electric space-cello) which, again, was a flurry of familiar tunes, reimagined and thrillingly presented.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the lighting. I’m not sure when it happened, but the light shows at modern concerts have just gone ‘nek level’.  What with Meshuggah in March, and Hans Zimmer tonight… I’m gonna have to start turning up to gigs with polarised glasses as well as earplugs.  I’m not sure how much it takes to max out the human sensory system and leave us all as puddles of brain addled ooze in our seats… but modern show producers look like they’re gunning to find out.

Things didn’t let up in Act II. In fact they bypassed Spinal Tap’s eleven and went straight to twelve. And a half. More virtuosic displays from Guthrie Govan on guitar led to music from The Man of Steel – a percussion extravaganza led by the intriguing powerhouse of Satnam Ramgotra on drum kit and tabla.

The next piece was one of my favourites of the night – the powerful long crescendo of ‘Journey to the Line’ from The Thin Red Line. This was the deep breath before a visceral assault of two or three pieces I either didn’t know or was too stunned to recall. Like being in a disco tumble drier. Then The Dark Knight… then Aurora (an emotional tribute to victims of the Colorado massacre, where a gunman opened fire on patrons in a cinema watching the last film of that trilogy.

Finally the two finale pieces – the powerful Interstellar, featuring a pipe organ motif reminiscent of Phillp Glass,which was probably… despite everything we had seen… probably the most impressive offering of the night. And lastly, Inception – a brass section tour-de-force ending with the haunting and beautifully elementary piano dyads of ‘Time’.

Hans Zimmer has huge range. This was a concert that orchestral musicians and professional opera singers came to watch (I know… they were sitting behind me…). They were treated, not only to a world class display from performers in their own idioms, but to lashings of heavy metal, ethnic music, tribal rhythms, industrial synth and hard techno too.

The man himself may have come across as a little awkward, but genius must find its balance. Under normal circumstances there were parts of the show that may have come across as a bit naff, but that was totally obliterated by the awesomeness of the performance.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Hans Zimmer is indeed one of the modern masters. It was a privilege to have seen him perform.