Hans Zimmer review, SSE Arena Wembley: Breathtaking, career-spanning set

Featuring tracks from Inception, The Dark Knight, Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man...

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The Independent Culture

Has there ever been a composer as unique as Hans Zimmer? The German-born musician has continuously pushed the boundaries of film scores, incorporating electronics, overdriven guitars, and helped to create the now-clichéd Inception “braaam”.

Walking onto the SSE Arena Wembley stage alone, Zimmer kicks things off simply enough, playing piano for “Driving” from Driving Miss Daisy. Fellow musicians enter one by one — including two violins, three drummers, and numerous guitarists — the sound growing ever louder. Everything turns up a notch as the song seamlessly merges into “Discombobulate” from Sherlock Holmes, a curtain dropping as the band quickly move into a joyous rendition of Madagascar’s “Zoosters Breakout”, revealing an entire orchestra and choir behind. 

As mentioned, Zimmer’s not like other composers. While the likes of John Williams would stand before an orchestra, conducting proceedings, Zimmer marches around the stage with a guitar in hand, playing side-by-side with other members of the incredibly talented band. Often, the spotlight moves from him to the other band members, Zimmer always looking on in awe by their pure musicianship. Between songs, he talks to the audience, telling stories about meeting those on stage and announcing – to a standing ovation – that proceeds from the concert will go to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The songs, of course, are incredible themselves, but are given new life by the immense performance. Tracks from Gladiator come early, pulsating through the hall and leaving goosebumps. “Circle of Life” from The Lion King leaves the audience stunned, singer Lebo M (who sang on the original soundtrack) showing the West End how it’s done. Then comes jubilant tracks from Pirates of the Caribbean, filling the audience with a sense of adventure as watery visuals appear on a huge oval screen behind.

A short interlude later, and the calming tones of “You’re so cool” from True Romance echo out. Then, one of the night’s many highlights as Trevor Horn of The Buggles joins the band for a rendition of “Video Killed the Radio Star” (Zimmer appeared in the music video), including a hilarious rapping segment. Accordingly, everyone on stage wears retro sunglasses.

Back to proceedings as normal, Zimmer announces the beginning of the “superhero segment”, starting with Man of Steel. Really, it’s a testament to the composer’s wide-ranging genius that an intense, overdrive-heavy performance of “Is She With You?” from Batman v Superman can give way to an intensely haunting rendition of “Journey to the Line” from The Thin Red Line, back into the halloweenish “The Electro Suite” from The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Of course, much of Zimmer’s recent resurgence comes thanks to Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception. All three soundtracks feature Zimmer’s rock sensibilities, combined with forward-thinking uses of classical arrangements. Playing them back-to-back over 30 minutes marks a breathtaking conclusion to a career-spanning, three-hour set.

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