On Wednesday, April 19, I watched my all-time favorite composer Hans Zimmer perform at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. This is the mastermind behind some of the highest-grossing and most critically acclaimed movies of our generation; the genius behind the music of some of my favorite computer games; the gateway to my addiction of endless looping Epic music mixes on YouTube.
Setting the stage
Linda and I sat in the orchestra section approximately 30 feet from the stage. Close enough to see each individual’s face, but far enough to still appreciate the acoustics. Two tickets cost $280. For Hans, I would have gladly paid more.
As the announcer made the 10-minute call, waves of marijuana smoke pummeled the auditorium. This ambiance starkly contrasted the John Williams concert we attended last year. I suppose Epic music brings a different type of crowd as opposed to more-classical music. People came prepared to get their minds blown. The loudspeaker echoed intermittent-but-thunderous bass, as if a starship hovered above us. It added to the suspense.
The loud introduction
At 10 past 8pm, The stage was set. The lights dimmed and shut off. The audience cheered. The first tunes of Driving Miss Daisy – Driving begun. Hans Zimmer appeared and walked towards center stage, then advanced the song with the piano. The audience roared. The lights then revealed his first chairs. The audience roared again. I felt the first of many chills. Fast forward the suspense, the curtains raised showing the orchestra, followed by the choir. The audience went wild.
After the song, Hans held the microphone and introduced his symphony members. They then played a dramatic selection of Crimson Tide.
Hans Zimmer the person
We all know of Hans Zimmer the musician, but I want to first talk about Hans Zimmer the person. I don’t mean to immortalize the guy, but he presented himself as a relate-able, humble human being. Following the conclusion of almost every selection, he gave individual kudos to his crew whom he called friends.
“Tonight is all about these guys,” he said, pointing at his band. In many live performances, the act would have looked staged and insincere. But true to his words, the chairs, orchestra, and choir were all given an impressive share of solo pieces. I believed him.
Moreover, they way he spoke did not seem premeditated nor rehearsed. After all, composers compose and inventors invent. Hans Zimmer wasn’t there to charm us with charisma. His musical instruments did the talking.
Throughout the night, he shared his composing stories in between playing the music we all love. This included his youthful excitement his initial phone call with Gladiator’s director, which upon sharing the news with his wife that he would be composing a soundtrack about men sword-fighting in dresses, his wife replied, “You boys…”
He shared his story about the Batman trilogy: from the initial passion over Batman Begins, to moving forward and honoring the late Heath Ledger with an equally dark main-theme tone, to the Aurora shootings on a midnight screening of the third episode. I could hear the sincerity in his voice. It was quite touching, and I could feel the emotions that were poured into these songs.
He boasted the diversity of his crew who’ve hailed from around the world. While holding his arms around Lebo M, the voice we all recognize from the beginning of The Lion King, Hans shared that Lebo was formerly a South African refugee. He gave a shout out to San Francisco for its tolerance and acceptance of ethnic diversity. It was quite impressive how he remained politically neutral when talking about sensitive subjects. The audience received this well and bellowed an enormous applause.
Near the end of the performance, he acknowledged the strong smell of marijuana throughout the performance, eliciting much laughter from the crowd. Only in San Francisco will you see the security guards ignore drug paraphernalia when checking backpacks and purses.
Hans Zimmer the musician
Seeing Hans’ level of involvement in music-playing was quite different than classical concerts. Whereas composers would hold the baton and have their backs against us, he did no such thing.
Instead, we witnessed him play a plethora of instruments ranging from the piano, to the guitar, to the synthesizer, and others I’m unfamiliar with. He walked around like he owned the stage, interacted with the audience, and gave the people sitting in the front seats an equal chance to bear witness to the whites of his eyes.
Hans Zimmer the composer
The concert was a lot different than what I had anticipated. I was expecting much fewer musicians, a lot more computer-generated sounds, and a backdrop showing movie clips.
Instead, there looked to be 40 musicians consuming four separate rows on the stage, with (visibly) few electronics, and a fully interactive light show that played along the beats and added to the suspense.
In three hours, Hans took us through Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, Da Vinci Code, Man of Steel, Wonder Woman, Interstellar, Inception, and more.
Lion King: a selection of the Circle of Life, This Land, and King of Pride Rock.
Interstellar: a selection of the main theme, the docking scene, the black hole scene, and S.T.A.Y.
The light show supplemented the performance superbly. They were dynamic and colorful and added an extra flavor. Although initially disappointed, I was very happy to not have watched movie scenes in the backdrop. It would have taken attention away from the performers who deserved all the spotlight. Here’s the Dark Knight piece from Coachella.
Speaking of spotlights, the attention given to individual performers was spot-on (pun intended), and we got to watch world-class talents give their best solo pieces. Tina Guo absolutely murdered the stage with her demeanor, facial expressions, and neck-breaking hair flips. 2Cellos, whom I would love to fly to Croatia to watch live, has competition for cello performance mastery. I imagine the majority of the audience were hypnotized during her piece.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the performance was how real instruments substituted the electronics played in the movies. You can still feel the anxiety building up to the song climax; the notes still hit the highs and lows correctly. However, many portions sounded different. Not worse, but different. There’s no way to explain it, you’ll just have to attend the live performance in person.
After Interstellar, Hans bid us all goodnight and the band walked off stage. While all lights were still off, the sold-out audience stood on their feet and clapped and cheered non stop. The night was still young.
Before I knew it, hundreds of cell phone flashlights emitted the entire auditorium. It looked as if we were among the stars. For two minutes straight, we made enough noise until Hans & co. walked back in. They then played Inception’s Dream is Collapsing and ended the epic night with Time.
The drama didn’t end after the concert. Still ripe with the feels, 7,000 of us exited the auditorium into pouring rain. The sky was clear just hours earlier. Once again, only in San Francisco.
By the time we safely arrived at BART, we were all soaked. The sky had cried from Hans Baemmer’s performance.