I have covered numerous performing arts events at the Palladium since it opened in 2011 and to my knowledge, a conga line of concert attendees has never snaked its way through the aisles, nor have they danced on its stage. That is, until Saturday, when Pink Martini, the Portland-based band made its debut, before a full house, at the crown jewel of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.
Now in its 24th year, Pink Martini began as an outgrowth of founder Thomas Lauderdale’s (who spent part of his childhood in North Manchester, Indiana) political activism. Celebrated for its Latin-flavored, multilingual repertoire and quirky mix of jazz, classical and retro pop music, the band, which can claim an almost cult-like following, is renowned throughout the world. No stranger to Central Indiana, Pink Martini has appeared at least three times with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, in concerts that I had the sublime pleasure of reviewing previously.
Displaying its usual brand of seasoned musicianship and impeccable showmanship, the band featured China Forbes as its lead singer, with the affable Lauderdale on piano, Hunter Noack as guest pianist, Nicolas Crosa on violin, Timothy Nishimoto providing vocals and percussion, Dan Faehnle on guitar, Phil Baker on bass, Reinhardt Melz on drums, along with percussionists Miguel Bernal and Brian Lavern Davis, Achilles Liarmakopoulos on trombone and Gavin Bondy on trumpet. Each musician’s name is worth mentioning because each contributed mightily to a sound that is broadly eclectic and superbly entertaining.
The set list for this Pink Martini concert was a combination of many of the songs recorded on its previous albums, as well as its ninth and latest studio album “Je dis oui!” My favorite selections included Forbes and the band performing the group’s very first hit song “Sympathique” or “I Don’t Want to Work,” with French lyrics that roughly translate to I don’t want to work /I don’t feel like eating yet/I only want to forget/And so I smoke. I was partial to “¿Dónde estás, Yolanda?” the song in Spanish that followed. It’s title not only bears my sister’s name, its catchy Latin beat made me want to get up and salsa. Other highlights in Act 1 included Forbes inviting women from the audience to join her and the band on stage as they performed Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman.” Once the song was over, the women and a few men stayed on stage to dance along to the band’s lengthy, hypnotic swing instrumental “The Flying Squirrel.”
Act 2 highlights included the classic “Malagueña,” and Cuban-born percussionist Bernal singing the yearning love ballad titled “Yo Te Quiero Siempre,” with Crosa turning in a poignant solo on the violin. The group concluded the concert with Forbes singing the Barbara Streisand part and Nishimoto the Judy Garland part from the legendary ladies’ 1963 TV duet of the “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” mash-up.
For an encore, the band performed what has become a tradition at their concerts, when Forbes, prior to singing Ary Barroso’s samba, “Brazil,” invited the audience to form a conga line. Once the song’s infectious rhythm and beat took hold, a small group got things started, causing more and more audience members to join them as they formed two lines that moved up and down the hall’s two aisles. Never had I seen what are normally staid audiences erupt with such passion. It was a truly a sight to behold, made possible by Pink Martini’s liberating, inclusive and inviting sensibilities and free spirited attitude.