Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pink Martini and the San Francisco Symphony

Taku and I went with a friend to see Pink Martini last night. They were doing their annual concert with the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Hall.

I missed them last year, and can’t imagine I had a good excuse. They just keep getting better and better.

Now on their fourth album, they have a solid following. There was no program, but all it took was one or two notes and the audience was howling in anticipation. Everybody knows the songs and there were sing-alongs.

Taku took to them right away, but I couldn’t see myself sitting down to listen to a Latin band, until I took in a concert they gave in their home town of Portland, Oregon several years ago, at which point I became a believer. They’re not a Latin band, although if all they played was Latin music, they’d still be a great band. But they range from classical to pop and other music difficult to classify. They’re real originals.

Won’t go on about them. If you don’t know them, here’s a small YouTube sample. There's a new song, from their fourth album, Bitty Boppy Betty.

There's Eugene. (on David Letterman)

There's Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love.

Last night was the second time I’d seen them with the San Francisco Symphony. I understand they’ve done concerts with the LA Symphony and the Boston Pops Orchestra as well. I almost prefer them as a 12-person band, but there is nothing like having a full orchestra behind you if you want to make an impact.

Besides the mix of old and new, they brought out two novelty acts. One was Ari Shapiro, of all people, the NPR White House correspondent, who threw out a crowd pleaser by telling them how good it was to be back in San Francisco right across the street from City Hall where he and his husband were married. Tom Lauderdale had met him at a party, liked his voice, and voilà, on stage he goes with the Symphony.

Another was Faith Prince, a childhood heroine of Tom Lauderdale’s, the group’s originator and pianist. Faith Prince, known for her role in Guys and Dolls, sang the song Groucho Marx made famous, Lydia the Tattooed Lady.

Thomas Lauderdale, a classically trained pianist, shares top billing with the group’s lead singer, China Forbes. The two met as students at Harvard. She has an album of her own out, but they have been writing songs and performing together since 1998. She also has an album of her own. Lauderdale was born in Oakland, adopted and raised in Indiana and Portland, the city now firmly associated with the band.

Lauderdale is the heart and soul of the band, and it carries his progressive political orientation. In fact, he got into popular music when running for mayor because, as he tells it, he couldn't abide the lousy music associated with political campaigns of the day. Now, especially when you see what tangents he goes off on – like the Meow Song, you wonder how he ever pulled off a serious pursuit of anything other than music that makes you want to get up and dance.

His energy spills over into his performances, and Pink Martini’s reputation has soared. It’s as if Lauderdale’s first goal is having a good time, with music following second. A close second, but he leaves no doubt that if you’re not having a laugh, what’s the point.

If they come your way, don’t miss them.

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