BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
There are a handful of film composers who fit the rock star category: John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman and Howard Shore are among them.
But earlier this year, Hans Zimmer actually became a rock star when, at the start of his first-ever U.S. tour, he slayed at hipster-heavy Coachella, his orchestrated film scores sharing space with Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga and turning him into an even greater hero to millennials.
At Tuesday’s performance at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, the crowd ranged from those younger adults weaned on “The Lion King,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “Batman” trilogy to the people who raised a fist with “Thelma and Louise” and fondly recall Morgan Freeman “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Zimmer and the 60-plus musicians who animate these lush compositions – many of them award-winning – showcased their multiple musical talents, as well as endearing personalities during the two-set show.
Zimmer, who will turn 60 this fall, is a hospitable and self-deprecating host – as well as one who plays numerous instruments including piano, banjo and guitar – and engaged the crowd throughout.
Sporting casual pants and a white button-down shirt for the first set (which was swapped for a black T-shirt to match the rest of his ebony-clad band for the second), Zimmer looked more like your friendly neighbor than a guy who has spent countless hours in windowless studios crafting some of the most memorable film music in history.
His frontline of musical wizards included guitarist Guthrie Govan, who slicked “The Da Vinci Code” with arena-worthy slide guitar, violinists Molly Rogers and Leah Zeger and cellist Tina Guo, who added dramatic hair tosses to her ferocious playing on her slim, metallic instrument during the “Pirates of the Caribbean” medley.
An early highlight arrived in the form of singer Lebo M., whose presence caused the crowd to burst into applause. The South African musician, a political refugee whom Zimmer met in Los Angeles decades ago, danced around the stage while he and singers Czarina Russell and his daughter, Refi, chanted the heavenly sounds from “The Lion King,” including “This Land” and “Circle of Life.”
“ ‘The Lion King’ is live all the time – you can go see it as a stage show,” Zimmer said after the song as he stood with his arm around Lebo. “But you can’t see him. THIS is the real Lion King.”
The burnt orange half-moon shining on the video screen behind the stage only added to the glow that Lebo brought to the performance.
While that video screen occasionally glimmered with decent, if hardly compelling, visuals (crashing water during “Pirates,” a throbbing red line during “A Thin Red Line”), the two screens stationed at the venue were dark throughout the night.
In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Zimmer explained that he purposely doesn’t identify the movies from which the music comes so that listeners can create their own experience.
Fair enough, but it still would have been helpful - and not at all distracting from the music – to simply post the name of the film or perhaps another identifier to clarify for those who haven’t memorized every soundtrack.
Zimmer did announce the arrival of “Crimson Tide” by accurately noting it would be an endurance test for the singers (“How long can you sing without taking a breath?”).
With the stage bathed blue, their choral harmonies echoed hauntingly as the sounds of danger were propelled by the percussion section and prominent guitar from Govan.
The pop-up drum solo spotlighting Satnam Ramgotra was thrilling, as the music escalated into a synchronized wall of sound.
“Everybody still alive?” Zimmer joked after the exhaustive piece.
His “Superheroes” contributions, including a tribute to “The Man of Steel” further accentuated how special it was to revel in the rare occurrence of hearing these masterworks live and in technicolor.