Pink Martini Lifts Spirits with Powerful Vocals

June 25, 2010

Zealous fans of Pink Martini will apparently wait out a tornado warning, lighting, thunder and torrential rain fall just to hear pianist-founder Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes work a song or two.

Zealous fans of Pink Martini will apparently wait out a tornado warning, lighting, thunder and torrential rain fall just to hear pianist-founder Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes work a song or two.

They did so Wednesday night at Millennium Park, even after Grant Park Music Festival executive director Elizabeth Hurley apologetically told the crowd that the show was likely to be canceled. Instead, fans huddled closer together and waited even longer. Their devotion paid off, and an hour later, Forbes was belting out the grooving Latin standard “Amado Mio” to an impressive 2,500 soaking fanatics in the Pritzker Pavilion.

The concert marked the Millennium park debut of the popular Portland, Oregon-based 12 piece ensemble, and this collaboration with Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra made perfect sense, given the conductor’s tenure with the Oregon Symphony and prior work with these eclectic musicians.

And which band has better evoked a particular feeling with its name than Pink Martini? Its bright and flavorful cocktail party music goes down ultra smooth and when each song’s swinging buzz invariably kicks in, it’s impossible not to order another.

Culturally curious, this 15-year-old “salon orchestra” deftly fuses Cuban, Brazilian, Japanese and various European styles while retrofitting them with a ‘40s Hollywood swagger. With her silky yet strong vocals, Forbes overpowered the sounds of the thunderstorms with a fragrant homage to Edith Piaf in “Sympathique.” Classical music also is woven seamlessly into the band’s songs, thanks to Lauderdale’s training and the band’s experience (it plays with some 30 symphonies a year). Tunes naturally glided around the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (“Splendor in the Grass”) and Schubert’s F-Minor Fantasy (“And Then You’re Home”).

If its affable public radio sensibility wasn’t evident enough, the group brought enough, the group brought out special guest singer Ari Shapiro-a White House correspondent for NPR-to sing “But Now I’m Back.” Set to a Benny Goodman-style swing a la “Sing, Sing, Sing,” the song follows a lover as he pleads to win back his estranged squeeze. Improvising a verse, Shapiro even threw Chicagoans a bone in the process: “Honey, I’ll buy you a hot dog with pickles, and I promise it wont have ketchup.” OK, even though the setting was a rainy night in Illinois, this extending of a hand to new cultures embodies Pink Martini’s one-world mission.

After the Grant Park Orchestra departed, Pink Martini kicked off an impassioned short set beginning with its humorous tale of rejection “Hey Eugene.” If Pink Martini ever gets to Millennium Park on a sunny evening, it could very well be the Grant Park party of the summer.

Bryant Manning, Chicago Sun-Times