Chan Poling treated the audience to an uncomplicated, gracious, and purely entertaining night of music at the Fitzgerald Theater on May 21, at SCORE!, a concert of movie scores with one Broadway tune thrown in. As Tony Bol, director of performance programs for MPR, explained in the event notes: “Chan’s take on movies and popular culture veers toward quirky classics…recently, he’s been thinking about the oddly beautiful, funny, romantic and occasionally exotic sounds of movie scores that deserve a fresh listen with a full musical treatment.”
As a host, the Fitzgerald provided pre-show and intermission music on the mighty Wurlitzer organ. Thank you for that! As the star performer, Poling entered the stage with a familiar comfort to his stroll, nice shoes, and a glass of red wine (hopefully fine) to take his seat at the piano. Around him were musicians including Terry Eason on guitar, DeVon Gray on keyboards/bassoon, Brian Roessler on bass, Ken Chastain on drums, and a horn section featuring Chris Thompson, Stephen Kung, and Matt Darling. The Laurels String Quartet of Minneapolis provided gracious and elegant strings. A brief verbal introduction by Poling led into him singing “Pure Imagination.” Poling’s raspy, deep voice created an intimate feeling akin to sitting around on barstools in a dark and smokey bar. Nice.
Sometimes film clips played behind the performers, but my favorite parts were when they did not. It left more to the imagination and I appreciated that. The scores became simply performance pieces that completely held their own. Which is, we’d assume, why Poling chose them in the first place. The first half of the show continued with “Themes from Les Aventuriers” (1967), “Themes from Fellini’s Amarcord” (1973), a quirky visual and instrumental version of the opening theme from Our Man Flint (1966), and two Bacharach pieces (a personal guilty pleasure): “Not Going Home Anymore” (1969) and “Wanting Things” (1968). Lucy Michelle did a stylistically staccato version of “Let’s Get Together” (1961), and Karen Solgard, on Norse fiddle/hardanger, wrapped it up with the eerie “Theme from Fargo” (1996), based on a traditional Norwegian song, “The Lost Sheep.”
The second half began with the theme from Twin Peaks (1992) and Harry Nilsson’s “Me and My Arrow” (1971). Jeremy Messersmith came onstage at that point for an epic rendition of “Moon River” (1961) that reminded me of seeing Rufus Wainwright live—composed, together, professional, but with a whole lot of personality. A tough act to follow, but Janey Winterbauer managed to do so with her own take on another classic from Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s Talkin'” (1969). “Amelie’s Waltz” (2001) followed, and Poling wrapped up the main performance with one of his top favorites of all music of all time, the theme from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). He didn’t want the night to end and neither did the audience, especially since the program mentioned that the last song would be “The Inchworm” from 1952. Poling performed that as a solo piano piece encore accompanied by the fairy-like duo of Michelle and Winterbauer alongside him, bookending the performance with another raspy, intimate piece.
It was an effortless night of listening and being entertained. Straightforward, unencumbered, elegant yet spirited, it reminded me of the cassettes we used to put together from favorite albums. Friends never knew how much work we put into them—the tape-overs, painfully adjusting the volume to fade just enough to not include the needle lift at the end, all the math figuring out just how many seconds you could squeeze on there—but man, they sure enjoyed them for a long time and we thought we had created personal masterpieces.
Keep your ears open: the performance was recorded by presenter Minnesota Public Radio. Hope you get a chance to enjoy it, too.
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