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Live in Prague
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Eagle Rock Entertainment / 2017 / 124m

I’ve been lucky enough to go to so many film music concerts in my life – some of the greats, Jerry Goldsmith year after year in London, John Williams on both sides of the Atlantic, Elmer Bernstein on his 80th birthday, John Barry with his legendary Royal Albert Hall show, Ennio Morricone more times than I can remember.  Of those, it’s only really Morricone who has had a “tour” (which is still going on now – when he’s 89!) – and all of them have been essentially the composer conducting an orchestra and sometimes choir, usually in traditional symphony venues.  But Hans Zimmer’s different – he did do a live show with an orchestra a long time ago (recorded on The Wings of a Film album) but when it came to starting a tour, he knew he wanted to do it differently – so off on the road he went with a band on an arena tour – and people flocked in their thousands.

This album is a recording of one of the legs of his 2016 tour – May’s stop in Prague – it has also been released on Blu-Ray.  I have to say, even though the tour came within a few miles of my home, I opted not to do – I was put off a little by the sky-high ticket prices, but more by the fact that based on clips and reports, so much of the thing seemed so sampled I wasn’t convinced I would get as much out of it as others.  Now, listening to the album, I can tell I probably made the right decision – but I have to say it’s very easy to see why Zimmer’s most devoted fans loved the experience.

Hans Zimmer Live

Things get underway with an opening suite of some of the composer’s more light-hearted tunes – “Driving” from Driving Miss Daisy, “Discombobulate” from Sherlock Holmes and “Zooster’s Breakout” from Madagascar.  The former is one of the catchiest themes he has ever written and is a great way to open things up, serving like an icebreaker to get people in a great mood, before the Morricone-inspired mayhem of “Discombobulate” and then great fun in Madagascar.

It’s such a good opening, but then come the first signs of a bit of trouble, with “Roll Tide” from Crimson Tide sounding incredibly thin (I don’t know how many musicians actually perform it – if you told me the answer was none and it was all pre-recorded samples, I wouldn’t be all that surprised); it segues seamlessly into “160 BPM” from Angels and Demons, which thankfully fares much better, the synths entirely appropriate here of course, and there’s a choir giving it their all.  The lengthy suite from Gladiator is a mixed bag – there’s a bulkier sound to the opening “The Wheat” but the pace is very pedestrian, the guitars which herald the opening of “The Battle” are brilliant but then when the orchestra should burst out, it doesn’t (thin-sounding samples, again – loads of percussion tries to disguise it, but can’t).  Two vocal cues close the suite – the beautiful “Elysium” (rather spoiled by synth strings) and easily the highlight, “Now We Are Free”, which sounds great, Czarina Russell doing an excellent impersonation of Lisa Gerrard.

“Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code is one of Zimmer’s most wonderful creations, but you’d never think so if you based if off this version, pared-down and electronic – the violin and cello solos are wonderful but there’s not enough going on behind them, that slow-build to something enormous from the original version just isn’t present.  A huge cheer greets the opening of the suite from The Lion King, with Lebo M’s unmistakable voice singing the opening to “Circle of Life”, but before any of the Elton John melody appears he segues into “This Land” and “King of Pride Rock”, joined by various other vocalists – it’s soulful, colourful, teeming with life (and there is a bit of Elton John at the end).  Then the first half ends with a very long suite from Pirates of the Caribbean – “Jack Sparrow” seems to go on much longer than it needs to (it’s basically one very small idea repeated ad nauseum with a short diversion in the middle) but after that, it’s great, with the sweeping “One Day” and the utterly brilliant “Up is Down” from At World’s End representing Zimmer at his fun best and then of course “He’s a Pirate”, the series’ main theme and almost certainly Zimmer’s most iconic piece of music.  This time round the samples aren’t a problem because the original scores sounded like it – “One Day” apart (which doesn’t sound the best), it wasn’t really written for real instruments so it doesn’t particularly matter that (with the exception of some very fine solos) it isn’t played by them.

True Romance‘s “You’re So Cool” isn’t by Zimmer at all (in James Horner style, he makes no attempt to disguise its very famous origin) but it’s a terrific piece of music and so nobody could begrudge its appearance at the start of the second half of the show; but strangely, we’re still on disc one of the album, which then ends with (Carl Orff excepted) the oldest piece on it, the main theme from Rain Man, opening with a surprisingly classy-sounding piano solo (it’s quite ironic that this famous piece of synth music is turned into that given how many things are going the other way on the album).  One of the scores that really put Zimmer on the map, it’s a great theme and I love this arrangement.

The second disc gets underway with the lovely main theme from Man of Steel, a score I otherwise hated with quite a passion – but that finale really is excellent.  A valiant effort is made to capture the sound of the original recording – they don’t quite get there, but it’s still a highlight.  There’s a slightly strange abrasive electronic opening to “Journey to the Line” from The Thin Red Line – a singularly brilliant piece of film music which has deservedly become one of the composer’s most popular.  I really don’t like the embellishments which have been made to it here, though (drum kit, seriously!?) – perhaps there was a fear the lengthy opening section of the piece wouldn’t be interesting enough for the audience, but Zimmer should have had the confidence to allow it to speak for itself as it was originally intended.

I think I liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more than most people – and it’s represented by “TheElectro Suite”, which is done well.  More of a mixed bag is “The Dark Knight Suite” (which features music from the second and third films).  I’ve always found it hard to connect with the scores, but this suite is very well put together – the Joker material (which opens it) is very good and very effective, and “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” is a very fine piece of action music, though when people start screaming “FISHY PASTA” a few minutes before the end, I can’t contain myself.  More seriously, following this (and a lengthy introduction from Zimmer, the only time on the album he hasn’t been edited out) is “Aurora”, the choral piece he wrote under tragic circumstances after the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.

Things come to a close with lengthy suites from Zimmer’s best two scores. First is Interstellar, for which the composer wrote a genuinely sweeping score which seemed to gain fame for its use of pipe organ but which should have gained fame for the way the composer took a straightforward emotion and built an entire film score from it.  The performance here is not without its problems – electric guitar and drum kit, seriously!?; and the tiny orchestra is again an issue – but it’s still a highlight.  But absolutely the best thing of all is Inception – the suite of “Dream is Collapsing”, “Mombassa” and “Time” is just brilliant, each sounding remarkably faithful to the original recording (Johnny Marr is on hand to provide the guitar solos) – it’s music of such visceral power,

I’ve probably made it fairly clear what the pros and cons of this are, as an album at least – it was probably very different as a live experience and I’m sure the many thousands of people who attended one of the shows will, as long as they enjoyed it, find it to be a first-rate memento.  But the thing with Hans Zimmer more than most film composers who have attempted live concerts is that a lot of his original recordings are lightning-in-a-bottle things – so far from straight orchestral music and therefore very hard to ever hope to recreate.  There’s a similar thing with Morricone, who doesn’t even really try to get close to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when he does it live – he just turns it into something else, and that something else is great.  But here Zimmer seems to be trying to recreate the originals as far as he can with the tools available, and trying to paper over the cracks of not having a big enough orchestra by throwing samples and drums over everything.  Sometimes it works fine, others less so.  As with virtually everything the man does, I’m sure it will be polarising.

Rating:
***
From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again

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  1. Yumbo (Reply) on Sunday 12 November, 2017 at 21:25

    I concur,

    You are the first to acknowledge most of the concert was pre-recorded except for the front line (most fans oblivious to that).
    It was more the atmosphere of being there, so video is better.

    I caught it in Sydney (drove 3 hours etc), and preferred the sound check, as sitting in the wooden stand at back was unbearable as the bass notes not only vibrated the floors but just pounded physically into your chest as the FOH tried to compensate for the higher up seats.

    160BPM and Electro Suite are the 2 best or unique pieces live, as they also happen to be presented via surround placement speakers (pre-recorded to boot) which was the best thing about the concert.

    My value was attending the sound check (grateful for that), and seeing Lisa Gerrard, who got short shrift as well during performance, where sound check was better.

    Hope the other concerts went better.

    This recording is not bad, and way better than Ghent but would have preferred a different setlist, or surprise guests or additions like Buggles.

  2. Mark (Reply) on Sunday 12 November, 2017 at 23:29

    Excuse my ignorance, but what’s the origin of ‘You’re So Cool’? I genuinely thought it was an original Zimmer piece until reading this.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 12 November, 2017 at 23:31

      • Mark (Reply) on Sunday 12 November, 2017 at 23:34

        Wow. That’s quite shameless.

    • Chris Caine (Reply) on Monday 13 November, 2017 at 00:26

      Grin,

      Known ages ago.

  3. mastadge (Reply) on Tuesday 14 November, 2017 at 15:15

    James, do you have any idea whether any of the other concerts (JNH, Horner) were recorded for any kind of commercial release? I imagine not but it would be a dream to be able to hear them.

  4. TJ (Reply) on Friday 17 November, 2017 at 04:13

    ” it wasn’t really written for real instruments so it doesn’t particularly matter that (with the exception of some very fine solos) it isn’t played by them.”

    You need to listen to the Silva Screen “Music From the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy” It was re-orchestrated for full orchestra and IMO far superior to the soundtrack recordings.