Pink Martini at Scottsdale Civic Center Mall Amphitheater

By Jonathan McNamara

Better Than: Listening to music in only one language and/or style.

Pink Martini is what every band wants to be even if they don’t know it yet. From the first note of their show at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall Amphitheater, it was unquestionably clear that the “little orchestra” from Portland’s M.O. is to be as technically proficient as a Swiss time piece while constantly giving off the impression that they’re having a fabulous time.

Playing to a crowd of people sitting on blankets and enjoying the unseasonably cool weather on May 13, 2008, Pink Martini started off with an instrumental number highlighting Pansy Chang on cello. It was beautiful to listen to and served as a signal to the crowd that the show is beginning. Imagine that! They started a show by playing music, not by standing in front of mics and testing sound monitors or saying the word “check” a million times.

It was when singer China Forbes made her appearance on stage that things really started to take off. The band pulled from each release in its three album library to create a set list that was like a rollicking romp with a few slow numbers thrown in to give you time to breath. Each number was preempted by either Forbes or pianist Thomas Lauderdale with a little trivia.

The Pink Martini cover recording “Amado Mio,” Lauderdale explains, actually has the wrong lyrics. Lauderdale and Forbes found the lyrics by listening to the song in the 1946 film Gilda in which the song initially appears. They lost a little bit in the translation however.

“So if you’re wondering what they were thinking in 1946, the answer lies in 1997 in a tiny recording studio in Portland Oregon.

Judging by audience reaction, the highlights of the set list included “Amado Mio,” “Donde Estas, Yolanda,” “Brazil,” and of course the title track from the band’s debut album Sumpathique. The title track from the band’s latest release Hey Eugene! drew an explosive reaction of applause the moment Forbes finished introducing it.

Pink Martini only played for about an hour and a half, but in the time they went through enough material to highlight all of the members with a solo or extended song intro played either alone or accompanied by Thomas Lauderdale on piano.

Perhaps it is this emphasis on solos that helps verify Pink Martini’s technical talent for playing their instruments. Taken individually, the members of the band are stunning musicians. Place them together and they are the picture of musical solidarity with each member being highlighted at one point or another and consequently no one fighting to be heard.

A novel concept! Does anyone else think so? I’m just check-check-check-checking.

Random Detail: Singer China Forbes referred to the albums not by name, but by overall color while talking about the songs they played. For example, she refers to Sympathique as “the yellow one.”

Personal Bias: A majority of the songs played by Pink Martini included no less than three different percussionists. Frankly, this doesn’t happen often enough.

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Jonathan McNamara