Earlier this week, the curtain has dropped on another installment of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and after dancing in the desert this year, it was clear to me that there was one performance that stood head and shoulders above everyone else on the bill. Each Sunday just after sundown you may have noticed the Outdoor Stage looking a bit crowded; I'm not talking about in the grass in front of the stage but rather on the stage itself. Through the very dimly lit lights you could barely make out what looked like roughly 50 musicians tuning their instruments and shuffling about in their tiered seating arrangements as the anticipation for their maestro – our maestro Hans Zimmer – to make his grand entrance escalated. As the clock struck 7:55pm everything went dark. A spotlight honed in on a tan skinned, round, balding man making his way to center-stage. The instruments went up and for the next hour the exhausted Day 3 audience was treated to possibly the best and certainly the most unique set of the entire weekend.
Who is Hans Zimmer? Arguably the most decorated film and television composer to ever walk this planet, with his collaborations with John Williams as much of the reason. Zimmer’s accolades include the composing the music to Twister, Cool Runnings, The Lion King, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Last Samurai, Madagascar, The Da Vinci Code, Planet Earth, Inception, and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy among a multitude of others. Something about the passion and intensity behind each song combined with the familiarity of each piece of music (many of us have seen and loved most of the movies he’s worked on) made for the perfect marriage of art and spectacle. 2017 was my 4th Coachella which makes me neither a newb nor a veteran and in my four times attending the festival. To the point: few performances have been more satisfying than this.
Bringing an orchestra out into the desert seems like a daunting task with so many moving parts as well as the doubt that there's really even an audience at Coachella for meticulously composed film scores? I can tell you first hand that after seeing DJs, rappers, and rock bands all weekend, Zimmer’s set on Sunday evening could not have come at a better time.
His performance was so magically different than anything else brought to Coachella – The last time something this off-kilter hit the Polo Fields was the Blue Man Group in 2003. The crowd hung on every pluck of a guitar string, every stroke of a piano key, every hum of each brass instrument and every cord progression of the string section. Mid-way through the set we, saw a giant reddish-orange sun-like orb slowly creep up behind the musicians on the LED screens used as the backdrop visuals and then all of a sudden we heard it: “Nants Ingonyama Bagithi Baba Sithi Uhm Ingonyamaaaaaa!” aka The Circle of Life. Zimmer brought out the original singer for the song Lebo M and it was at this moment we realized that each of these songs that brought us such joy and created so many memorable moments from our younger years did not just exist in movie scenes but were made by real people who were world-class musicians at the top of their game all being directed by one man. Just when our hearts were all on fire and our minds were stuck in the Serengeti Zimmer announced "It's about to get a bit dark" and we were treated to a medley from The Dark Knight that began with the bone chilling Joker theme. Each song was about 10-15 minutes long so the set seemed shorter than it was. Before we knew it Zimmer was closing out with a goose-bump inducing piano solo of Inception 's "Time" and our engagement together had come to an end.
Zimmer's performance felt like a reward, a reward for those of us who had not only attended Coachella previously but attended any music festival really. A welcomed break from anything most of us had ever seen before. Zimmer's performance combined the attitude of a hip-hop show, the visual stimulation of an electronic show, and the harmonious precision of a rock band who had been playing together for decades. Even Pharrell Williams made a special guest appearance to perform "Freedom." Not necessarily a high point but it's always comforting to see Skateboard P perform as he is a master in his own right. As Zimmer and his orchestra made their way off stage we were left yearning for more. In the end, the performance really brought me closer to those around me because we just all had a shared experience that was as if you took Zimmer's movies and watched them with each person in attendance that day. I was spiritually inebriated from the whole exercise that just took place and on a fantastic high. Luckily Zimmer and and Co. will be on tour this summer so I won't be chasing that high for long.