The year's must-see event for movie buffs, or simply those who market in imagination
Superman is here, but he’s nowhere to be seen. The same goes for any of the other icons — the pirates, the lion kings, the dark knights of the world — whose symphonic fights and flights have been scored by Hans Zimmer, the prolific Oscar-winning film composer whose North American concert tour is officially the year’s must-see event for movie buffs, or simply those who market in imagination.
Ahead of his buzzy Coachella debut, Zimmer sold out the cavernous 7,100-seat Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Friday to unofficially kick off the tour of Hans Zimmer Revealed, a three-hour riff through some of his most beloved scores, culling themes and tracks from movies like Inception, Gladiator, Crimson Tide, Interstellar, The Da Vinci Code, The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, and his superhero suite.
Joined by his band, a studio orchestra, and a haunting choir line, 59-year-old Zimmer began his landmark show with a fist-pump and coat-tails and ended in a sweaty black tee, arms slung around his bandmates, both drained by and high off the sound he poured into the eye- and ear-popping spectacle. As a performer, Zimmer oozes energy from every position he takes onstage, oscillating between instruments with shocking seamlessness, never glancing at a single sheet of music, and betraying himself as a kinetic and passionate musician with a knack for storytelling. The man shared compelling tales during the evening — fascinating, effortless stories of Ridley Scott phoning Zimmer to seduce him into scoring Gladiator, or of the anguish over his work on The Dark Knight following Heath Ledger’s death — but what became clearest of all was the power of Zimmer’s stories that didn’t rely on any such words.
A film score played live is often a magical enough experience on its own, but Zimmer’s show — accompanied by exquisitely trippy projections on a massive screen behind the orchestra — plays as a modern-day Fantasia bursting with extraordinary color and feeling. The set list indulges but doesn’t dwell on the composer’s best-loved suites, sampling just enough to whet an appetite (and force a few mental reminders for Netflix when you get home). While there’s little question that Zimmer is one of the most accomplished composing talents in the world, his ride through his multi-decade resume highlighted both the variety of his compositions and the thematic similarities that each project shares.
Certain films appear on the setlist without introduction, while others — the best-known — arrive backed by projections that purposefully lack any literal representation (Man of Steel, for instance, pulses along to an abstract spherical visualizer; The Dark Knight is a sea of shifting black-and-white geometry). What’s amazing is how this lack of literal imagery pairs with the participatory quality of Zimmer’s scores. Each musical movement demands a work-out of your most imaginative muscles—be it your ability to place yourself into the rich visuals of a film you know well, or the creative exercise of sifting through your mind’s archives to find a story to match a piece you’re only hearing for the first time. Zimmer’s songs are all structured with a narrative lilt in mind, thereby demanding that the audience go on a journey somewhere, regardless of whether or not you’ve got a familiar filmic landscape in mind (although surely, hundreds in attendance knew each and every Zimmer movement, based simply on their howls at just a single opening note).
This boundless but directed freedom is essentially the beauty of the show, especially during a year when every morsel of Hollywood entertainment must be measured on a spectrum of escapism. Zimmer himself acknowledged this in a poignant moment towards the end of act two, sharing a story about a song he dedicated to the victims of the 2012 shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater during the midnight release of The Dark Knight Rises. The song, he said, was a pair of outstretched arms offering and seeking embrace, and he further linked the piece to more recent tragedies in Paris, Brussels, and Syria. “Aurora” only heightened the catharsis of the evening, which was ultimately a disarming display of emotion, especially in Zimmer’s odes to collaborators lost (like Ledger or Tony Scott) and found (like special guest Lebo M., the Lion King vocalist whom Zimmer first met at a Los Angeles car wash as a refugee fleeing Apartheid before he became the iconic voice of “Circle of Life”).
The real highlight is Zimmer himself, a man typically relegated to a dark room, now set free to shine his goofy and laid-back personality through interstitial commentary that supplements the audience’s treasured memories of his films. “Girl power!” he says in his cute little German accent, professing his preference for Wonder Woman over Superman. “Dark!” he giggle-whispers as he introduces the Batman trilogy. He prefaces his Gladiator setlist with “a little experiment in the middle, which will either work or not — we’ll find out!” All night long, he tinkers and toys, hopping around the stage at lightning speed, eager to share moments with the vocalists and principal players whom he frequently spotlights.
Far from being just a movie lover’s dream, Zimmer is a pure entertainer, capable of weaving great sentiment into a hugely compelling, must-see experience (his summer tour officially kicks off in Dallas on July 13) that lets an audience in on the secrets of a prolific 30-plus-year career. Perhaps best of all, there’s a wonderful feeling that even if no one was in the crowd, this may still just be how Hans Zimmer would be spending his Friday night.