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Concert Review: Pink Martini Intoxicates with Performance Great Music and Fun Atmosphere Delight Audience

By Bill Andrews

Pink Martini Concert

Sept. 17, 2006

Berklee Performance Center

I really miss Song airlines. Not only were they the cheapest way for me to travel from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale, and not only were all the stewardesses — er, flight attendants — really hot, but I counted on them to provide cool new music for me. Part of Song’s attraction, back in the day, was a huge variety of music and artists from which you could compile a playlist for your flight, and they always had the coolest bands.

It was in this way that I first heard of Pink Martini, an unusual but awesome group.

I would try to tell friends about them, but when asked, “What kind of music do they play?” I was at a loss. “Um, old-school, lyrical, kinda jazz, kinda Latin?” The only other person who understood that was my fianc e, and only because she’d flown on Song herself. Now, though, after having attended their concert on Sept. 17 at the Berklee Performance Center, I can now tell you they are “somewhere between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, a classical chamber music ensemble, a Brasilian marching street band, and Japanese film noir.” Well, that settles that.

With Pink Martini, the emphasis is solely on the music, whether it’s an instrumental piece like their version of “Bolero,” which started the concert, a famous cover song like “Brazil,” which ended the concert, or all the original and wonderful pieces in between. In fact, it was surprising to hear a concert where the music is practically identical to the CDs (except for the solos, of course, which were mostly improvised). But rather than detract from the concert experience (“I came all the way out here to listen to what I already have on CD?!”), it actually made the rest of the show all the more memorable.

While the “visuals” were minimal — dramatic lights would bathe the 12-piece ensemble in a rosy glow for fiery numbers, or a cool blue for the bluesy pieces — it was a joy to see the performers do their work in person. Everyone was visibly enjoying themselves throughout the laid-back concert, from the violinist, Paloma Griffin, who grinned as she played, to the trumpetist, Gavin Bondy, who swayed in time to the music and his amazing solos. By far the most vibrant personality on stage, though, was the lead vocalist, China Forbes. When she came onstage in a sexy, slinky black dress and began singing in that pure, sultry, expressive voice of hers, I felt transported back in time to the days when music meant singing and instruments and fun — not selling sex, bling, and music videos.

The rapport Forbes had with Thomas M. Lauderdale, the pianist and founder of the group, also added to the experience. They’d talk casually between songs, sometimes including the audience, sometimes not, jokingly making fun of each other. “We were just arguing about the playlist for tonight’s songs,” Lauderdale said at one point, “but I think China’s gonna win.” Together they’d introduce the next song, giving a little explanation or a backstory sometimes; either way, it felt like we were a part of the group, friends of the band who were getting a private performance. It was nice.

The audience got into the spirit too, occasionally yelling out requests (“Play ‘Lilly’!”) or questions about their upcoming third album, which will be out “before Easter 2007, probably,” according to Lauderdale. Judging from the handful of songs they played from that album, it’ll be just as enjoyable as the first two. Particularly memorable was a song (most likely) called “Eugene,” about a man who flirted and danced with Forbes but never called her back. The humor in this song was more overt than usual, but all of their songs are about having fun and enjoying life; it’s almost as if their music is a series of jokes, and we get them all. Jokes for the soul, I guess, but that’s getting too deep, and they probably wouldn’t want it that way.

In the end, this show was just what I was hoping for and expecting: just like the CDs, but more so. More levity, more music, more fun. It’s clear that they focus on great music and great times, unlike so many bands in this day and age. After all, there’s a reason I only have to miss Song airlines, and not Pink Martini.