Show Review: An Evening with Pink Martini featuring Storm Large at the Paramount Theatre, 11/20/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on November 21, 2011

Storm Large fills in brilliantly for China Forbes

Storm Large fills in brilliantly for China Forbes

It’s very easy to get lost in the concert scene with a want to see the greatest technological innovation in stage design or the wildest antics ever displayed by an up-and-coming act — so much so that the music, quite sadly, sometimes gets lost in the struggle. Venues are built with impressive sound systems that make the foundations shudder and quake, and incredible arrays of lights, lasers and smoke work in tandem to paint a dazzling dreamscape over the faces of the musicians onstage — and that’s not taking into account any props they may, themselves, throw in for an extra layer of excitement. While it’s probably more common to forego a want of musical satisfaction in the face of a bombastic display of utter chaos that takes us to another world, it is important to find those special acts who take the stage with a minimum amount of fancy arrangements and eye candy, instead devoting their attention to their elegant sound that rings gloriously about the ears like a breezy summer susurrus rather than a blistering sirocco. To these expert talents, we look to the Portland collective known as Pink Martini to bring us back to a world of music so often heard in our daily lives that it seems impossible to fully appreciate it on a stage, or in a tremendous theater like the Paramount in Oakland — and they rise to the challenge magnificently, particularly with frontlady Storm Large taking a new place at the helm.

One small section of the 10-piece tiny orchestra

One small section of the 10-piece tiny orchestra

It might seem easy to pigeonhole an act like Pink Martini into the category of “world muzak”, as so prevalent are the elements of jazz, salsa, tango, and smoky European balladry in their tunes that it is hard to describe them within a single statement. Where you would hear the sultry tunes of Edith Piaf against a dramatic orchestra or delicate piano, however, you discover accompaniment from a Cuban percussion rhythm; a cover of “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” is sung in Spanish rather than the famous Doris Day version, with Latin elements accompanying the lyrics like a subtle savory element to a dessert; and just when the band has relaxed their audience with several gorgeous ballads under steady blue hues, the stage explodes in sunny yellow and vivid crimson for a boisterous instrumental performance of “The Flying Squirrel”. The environment and mood is ever-shifting, as if the band transmutes from a tiny late-night-bar jazz trio into a thunderous symphony orchestra with just a simple change of lighting and advancement to the next number on the setlist — and the musicians throw every bit of possible energy into each minute of the show.

Storm Large lends her stunning voice to the ensemble

Storm Large lends her incredible voice to the ensemble

Adding to that brilliance in energy and performance for the band’s Oakland performance was former San Francisco native Storm Large, who took over the role of lead singer when China Forbes stepped out in June 2011 for vocal chord surgery. Those who had never seen the now-Portland-based siren before tonight were positively blown away, as she stepped into the shoes left for her and stunned everyone with her powerful voice and sultry moves. With such subtle passion and seductiveness flowing through the lyrics of Pink Martini’s songs — originals and covers alike — Storm’s smoldering performance fanned the gentle flames to a roaring inferno, filling the theater with her voice and taking every opportunity to move gently and effectively to the music that swirled around her. In between numbers, the playful humor of Storm’s dauntingly scintillating persona helped to emphasize how singularly entertaining she was, while also smoothing her into the delicate mold that Pink Martini had formed for the evening.

Left to right: Nicholas Crosa, Phil Baker and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini

Left to right: Nicholas Crosa, Phil Baker and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini

While certainly providing a brilliant, shining beacon for most of the evening’s spotlight, Storm was by no means the only measure of spectacular talent that graced the stage. Each musician was offered a handful of marvelous soloing opportunities, all of which were met with wild applause from the audience. Horn players Jeff Budin and Gavin Bondy traded numerous exchanges, with each other and with the string section of Nicholas Crosa and Phil Baker, with band “conductor” Thomas Lauderdale guiding many of the songs and extensive solos back to earth with his own set of intricate delicacies on the piano. Additional vocalists were also present, including Pink Martini’s own Timothy Nishimoto, who paired a seductive voice with charming Latin dance steps in a jovial, upbeat performance of “¿Dónde estás Yolanda?”. Also present was Malaysian tenor Sean Ghazi, who offered his rich velvety voice to the thrilling “Let’s Never Stop” and faced off with Storm on an expert pairing of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”, done in an impressive musical-argument style. The aforementioned “The Flying Squirrel” saw some of the most incredible solos of the evening, including a furious but meticulous cacophony from drummer Brian Davis.

Thomas Lauderdale in a rare moment of pause

Thomas Lauderdale in a rare moment of pause

Pink Martini treated their audience to almost 2 full hours of music, spanning across at least 4 languages and a dizzying number of styles and genres. Numerous moments during the night saw Storm and the other frontmen of the group encouraging the audience to clap, dance, or at least shake in time with the blasts of music that echoed through the halls of the Paramount Theatre. One lucky fan was pulled onstage by Storm to be her dance partner for “Tuca Tuca”, thanks to her inability to keep from dancing within her own seat. The audience rose for a standing ovation at the end of both their main set and their encore, and were fully on their feet and throwing caution to the winds for the final number of the night — a stomping, rousing performance of “Brazil” that saw Storm bouncing, shaking, and twirling her way back and forth across the front of the stage. Bow after bow was exchanged, and with the show coming to a close promptly at the early hour of 9:30pm, it was clear that the audience was, if anything, more than willing to stay for another hour of magnificent music.

Pink Martini in full form

Pink Martini in full form

While being an avid fan of Storm Large’s solo work for many years running, I had never had the chance to fully develop my interest in Pink Martini, and was absolutely floored by their musicianship. Having seen Storm perform in her over-the-top-yet-remarkably-on-point style that is so dominant within her solo shows, it was a wonderful treat to see such an amazing singer offer her vocal talents to their truest display of ability — and, thankfully, without leaving any hint that she still had the devilish good looks and attitude that she is so well known for. It was also a treat to hear such splendid music at a level that filled my head but did not overpower me — one of the few shows where I have been able to take in all of the music without the necessity of earplugs to withstand it all. I am now more curious than ever to see Pink Martini in their original form, when China Forbes returns to the fold, and I cannot wait to see what the experience of this touring year has brought to Storm’s writing in the future.

Pink Martini's setlist

Pink Martini's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

JW November 22, 2011 at 9:37 am

Robert Taylor didn’t perform with Pink Martini on Sunday night. I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the substitute performer — he was quite good — but it wasn’t Robert.

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Bob McCoy December 23, 2012 at 5:18 am

Dunno if you got the comment I was attempting to make via the contact-us section of your website – if not – here ’tis sort of again: She and they were simply amazing last night at “Chistmas” concert with the NC Symphony – everything you said above I second esp her voice – I would gladly follow her to hell to never return – particularly after actually seeing her up close at the albumn signing — amnesia hot. Traditional Christmas program we were expecting — not, and happily so.

Played one LP one side and the Christmas CD after returning home — easily the best recordings I have ever heard from a quality standpoint (mic, mix, manufacture) — apparently Bernie Grundman does all of the mastering and it shows and sounds that way – these folks actually care how the records sound — amazing again and quite a treat – fan forever

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