Hans Zimmer live in Los Angeles: lifting the curtain on the magic behind the music


Last Friday, I took my family to a sold out Microsoft Theater in downtown LA to see Hans Zimmer on his first US tour date.

The energy before the show was palpable, as people chatted before taking their seats, admiring the extent of the venue - it was clear this was no ordinary composer. Hans was now a rock-star in his own right, with whistles, cheers and rapturous support from the moment he walked on stage. Hans either has lots of friends in LA (very likely, actually given his base in Santa Monica and the glitz of Hollywood) or rather, this hidden genius, behind some of today’s most infamous films has truly solidified his status as one of the most revered composers of today. His reasoning for this tour, in his own words, was due to friends prompting him to get out of his windowless room and meet the people who admire his work. Much to everyones relief, they came in their droves to see him on this, his opening night of an extensive worldwide tour. 

The show opened with the emphatic jazz-inspired energy of Driving Miss Daisy, as his band were revealed, followed by an additional full orchestra tier, and finally a silhouetted choir lining the back of a massive stage. This opening track likely helped ease my in-laws into the night, as they had no idea what to expect after my vague "movie score" intro.

Hans took his place on the piano as the energy quickly ramped up and the fast paced tinkering kept everyone fixated. It was a perfect crescendo to open the show, leaving gasps and then applause, as the crowd realized the extending stage presence with each reveal of the curtain. 

Hans played the role of graceful host throughout the evening, giving short stories about his life, about the work that was to follow, and bellowing support for his fellow musicians. He was gentlemanly and appreciative, making the bustling theater feel like we were all sat in a glorified and intimate practice session. It was after all, an extremely manicured and refined setup, but he would go on to warn us of newly added middle-parts to tracks we know all too well, and some experiments the band wanted to try. One of which, included Hans sitting down and jamming on guitar in the middle of an the infamous Gladiator score, bookended by some beautiful vocals by Czarina Russell. It was an extended section to one of his best pieces to date - he was having fun, and it was infectious.

After a sombre but immersive Crimson Tide soundtrack, the programming moved relatively slowly, and the majority of pieces remained separated by Hans' personal introductions. With a production of this size, these guys needed time to rearrange and catch their breath. This was until, the familiar Lion King chant dropped without any notice - the stage background slowly lit by an African sunrise, and guest vocalist (and original Lion King vocalist) Lebo M, and his daughter, flanked the stage powering through the ‘Circle of Life’. It was a switch in pace, but for the eclectic crowd - many of which probably know him due to The Lion King and its extended franchise, it was the perfect energy bump for a set largely devoid of lead vocals. 

After the break, Hans had changed into a black t-shirt, and with a sly knowing of intent, introduced the following section of the show, as "the super-hero part". Hans’ fans likely arrived through many avenues over the years - his Academy Award winning Lion King score, his early 90’s scores for Crimson Tide or, The Thin Red Line, but perhaps most notoriously, his major epics for The Dark Knight, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Gladiator, Inception and most recently, Interstellar. It was within these pieces that we saw some of the key musicians in his band come to the foreground, with Cellist Tina Guo flawlessly displaying her eccentric and passionate style, drummer Satnam Singh pounding through a percussive, tribal Batman theme, and in the end, Hans himself pouring over the piano for my favorite piece to close the show, Inception. Hans would end up playing piano, guitar, banjo, drums (“when it’s your own band you get to decide”) and even a tribal chant as part of the Dark Night’s elevating and driving percussive suite.

Throughout the evening, Hans made sure he gave the spotlight to each of his key players on stage in a humbling manner. Not only were we dealing with one of the most successful composers of all time, but the likes of James Newton Howard was also plugging away somewhere back there, pioneering cellist Tina Guo could’ve been selling out concerts of her own and 'Multidirectional Flute Soloist’ Pedro Eustache, was truly one of a kind - and we were very lucky to have him (You may have heard his previous work on this classic chill-out track.) At one point, I’m sure I witnessed Pedro pick up three different wood-instruments in the space of 1-minute, all executed flawlessly as he ran from stage-right, to stage-center. Timing these energetic displays with 50+people could go very wrong, but this guy was truly the Pied Piper of the show. 

Surrounding himself with friends within his music is a sentiment that's echoed throughout Hans' career, for example, refusing to enter scores into Academy Awards due to the requirement of a singular composer credit. This collective approach has undoubtedly won him respect and admiration from his fellows, let alone his fans. Most of these relationships, as Hans explained, have been formed over many many years, and it was evident this wasn’t a band brought together by the shallow ask of a tour. Instead, this was a band brought together by decades of practice, friendship and shared experiences that have formed the DNA of every one of his soundtracks. Only someone like Hans Zimmer can distill that process into the epic sound we hear behind some of the worlds biggest movies. 

Next time you listen to a Hans Zimmer score, know that the energy and emotion you hear isn’t necessarily a canned Hollywood style, pre-programmed output. In Hans’ instance, it’s likely the result of an amazing group of friendships formed over many years, who are amazing at what they do, and evidently, have a lot of fun doing it.

And as Hans went on to detail at one point in the show - debunking the glitz and glam of Hollywood - it's often these simple friendships that provide the spark to the most epic of journeys. A phone call at 9am between Hans and his good friend, and director, Ridley Scott, decided they needed to make a film about Gladiators...

“Oh you boys", Hans' wife said at that moment.  

Hans Zimmer has forever been the Wizard of Oz, hidden behind the grandeur of the music, and some of the most successful films of all time. But with his friends at his side, this show lifted the curtain on the humble heart and driving passions behind it all.