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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Remarkable Hollywood Bowl concert from remarkable Pink Martini

Pink Martini performs its hit "Sympathique"

One of pop music’s most remarkable bands, Pink Martini put on a most remarkable show at the sold-out Hollywood Bowl Sunday night--the Portland group’s 17th concert there in their 23-year existence.

Founded by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and featuring two stellar co-lead vocalists in China Forbes and Storm Large, Pink Martini has built an international following, thanks largely to their facility with foreign languages and ambitious practice of learning and recording songs in very many of them. These include French, in which they wrote their first single, “Sympathique,” the Lauderdale-Forbes titletrack of Pink Martini’s 1997 album, and a Song of the Year nominee for the Victoires de la Musique Awards in France, where it was a big hit.

At Hollywood Bowl, they took foreign language songs--many from latest album Je dis oui!--to the next level, interspersing original English fare like “Que Sera Sera,” their 2007 album titletrack “Hey Eugene!” and 2009 album titletrack “Splendor in the Grass" in between, almost as if they were filler. And they often performed the foreign songs by enlisting aid from audience members who spoke the language, then auditioning them offstage to make sure they were qualified, then ushering them out to join in on the choruses.

This was most effective on “Al Bint Al Shalabiya,” an Arabic hit by Lebanese singer Fairuz. It was sung by renowned Chicago fashion designer Ikram Goldman, who grew up in Israel listening to Fairuz and became friends with Pink Martini through Paper magazine co-editor in chief Kim Hastreiter (who played several instruments in Pink Martini at the Bowl). Not only did the 10 Arab backup singers exult in singing along with Goldman, but the melodica player in the band perfectly captured the character of the Arabic ney flute.

When Lauderdale likewise called for a group of Turkish singers, there was a smattering of boos, presumably from Armenians in the house--but if so, they were quickly calmed by an Armenian song sung ahead of the Turkish one.

There was another instance of audience disapproval, only this was from one lone objector, way in the back, to Lauderdale’s speech supporting people of all nationalities, religions, genders and preferences. This caused an uncomfortable three seconds of silence in the section, followed by three minutes of unobtrusive laughter.

The only other sour note, though, was unheard, since Storm Large had laryngitis. But she looked great when Forbes brought her out after acknowledging the irony in taking over Large’s leads after Large had temporarily replaced Forbes in 2011 when she needed vocal chord surgery, then joined the band permanently.

And whatever Large lacked in voice she more than made up for in feet--and enthusiasm--as she danced way into the crowd during a 10-minute instrumental after Forbes’ turn on “I Am Woman,” sung in tribute to Helen Reddy, who was in the audience and took a bow.

National Public Radio’s All Things Considered host and frequent Pink Martini collaborator Ari Shapiro was also present and performed “Finnisma Di,” an Arabic song about displaced persons by lyricist Iyad Qasem--prior to which Shapiro noted how the Arab writer appreciated the Jewish singer's interpretation. And Lauderdale brought out a group of Japanese businessmen from Portland to reprise the backup vocals they contributed to a Pink Martini recording by Japanese-American vocalist Timothy Nishimoto, all dressed in tuxes except for Nishimoto’s father.

The concert ended with the grandest of global finales, with all the participating linguists returning to the stage to join Pink Martini on “America” from West Side Story.



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