The Cinematic Orchestra


Last time I saw The Cinematic Orchestra was at Soundwave, Croatia in 2010, just down the coast from Zadar – which Alfred Hitchcock described as having the “most beautiful sunset in the world”. Tonight’s concert starts with the rolling, rising, boiling crescendo of ‘Lessons’ and then golden lights wash upwards over the crowd, like a glorious sunrise.

Next up, 2002’s ‘The Man with the Movie Camera’ really justifies the name “Cinematic Orchestra” – as we’re treated to a classic that would not seem out of place over much of Hitchcock’s work: a cool, moody, evocative, shifting multi-layered build-up of dramatic tension. The awesome drum solo is outdone only by the superlative oboe playing, worthy of any classical piece.

Cultured, musical, refined and enigmatic, at times restrained but often utterly unleashed, The Cinematic Orchestra is a band of true musicians. In the modern era, where bands become popular mostly through image and a knack for storytelling or emotional connection, it is often recording techniques, careful craft and rote learning that ensure a great-sounding, professional product, rather than musical ability; but there is absolutely no doubting here that Cinematic Orchestra is made up of amazing players – yet it never comes across that we are being forced to acknowledge that; the playing is just there to communicate the emotion of the music, and when it needs to be simple, it is beautifully simple.

Drummer Luke Flowers does things that make the drummers I know jealous. He records things that they don’t believe possible – and then he does them live. He’s marvellous to see performing in the flesh – but if you aren’t looking for it, then most of the time you could miss it, because he does such a good job of driving the complex changes and arrangements in the Cinematic Orchestra songs along seamlessly.

Woodwind maestro Tom Chant puts together a really interesting piece on sax using a loop pedal (plus synth and oboe); it is out of the ordinary and very clever but suffers a little from a lack of tonal range and variation in timbre and develops an overall busy-ness of sound, when compared to the rest of the set. In the end, it builds up to give a real sense of a spinning-out panic attack – so though it certainly wouldn’t work for more than one song, it is effective in this context – assuming we were all supposed to be a bit wigged out by the time the music stops…

When we first get some vocals (from the excellent Heidi Vogel) it is understated, low in the mix and sublime almost beyond words. The melodies are supremely evocative and develop into jazzily discordant lamentations, playing off the music and eventually building in volume and contrasting with the music to beautiful effect.

Vogel returns to carry the second portion of the gig in the classic dance-music role of “uncredited female vocalist”; support act Salami Rose also supplies some choral backing. It’s hard to convey Heidi’s understated professionalism while hinting at just how much she brings to these tunes – so I will just mention how you would have no idea, if you listened to a recording of the concert, that she spent periods of three or four songs being showered with glitter and carried on singing unfazed, all the while picking tiny slivers of shiny golden plastic out of her mouth.

What could have turned into a vignette from a ridiculous mockumentary becomes just a minor hiccup in a star performance, and Vogel’s restrained and stoic performance steals the show from a cast of supremely talented but ever-understated performers.

The Cinematic Orchestra: Official | Facebook | Twitter

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.