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Clip: Elliott Smith arranged for solo piano

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  • Carl Z.
    Classical spin to Elliott Smith songs
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 8, 2006

      Classical spin to Elliott Smith songs
      Christopher O'Riley pays tribute to singer-songwriter

      By Andy Downing
      Special to the Tribune
      Published April 7, 2006

      Rock musicians often turn to classical instruments in an attempt to
      legitimize their music and give it an air of class--from the Beatles'
      experimentation with string arrangements to Metallica's performance
      with the San Francisco Orchestra.

      More rare is the classical performer who embraces popular music,
      unmasking elaborate arrangements in seemingly simplistic rock tunes.
      Pianist Christopher O'Riley is one such performer. O'Riley is best
      known for his two albums of Radiohead covers, which twist the British
      rockers' elaborate tunes into digestible symphonies.

      Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, the pianist debuted his
      latest project: a collection of songs penned by the late
      singer-songwriter Elliott Smith (available on the forthcoming "Home to
      Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute").

      The 110-minute, 20-song performance was often stirring, O'Riley
      displaying an obvious admiration for the singer in professing that
      "[Smith] is the most important songwriter since Cole Porter."

      That affection carried over to the song list, which drew on everything
      from unreleased material ("No Life") to "Not Half Right," a song by
      Smith's first band, Heatmiser.

      Absent Smith's haunted vocals, it was up to O'Riley to provide the
      tunes with emotional heft. On "Let's Get Lost," the pianist's left
      hand wandered across the keys, lonely notes hovering like snowflakes
      caught in the breeze; "No Life" teetered between hope and despair,
      O'Riley signaling looming depression with a series of deep, hollow
      chords; "Bye"--as delicate as a porcelain doll--was a suitably tender
      parting shot following the bombast of "Stupidity Tries."

      At times the respect for Smith was a bit too obvious. Dressed in
      black, O'Riley made the performance sometimes feel like a memorial
      service. Songs like "I Better Be Quiet" and "Speed Trials" may be
      moving when driven by Smith's shaky timbre, but as instrumentals they
      demand a little something more.

      This became clear when O'Riley deconstructed Radiohead's "Paranoid
      Android" in an encore that swung from staggering beauty to chaotic
      arpeggios and back again over the course of seven breathtaking

      O'Riley's greatest accomplishment, however, is his ability to
      introduce young fans of contemporary artists like Radiohead and Smith
      to classical music. And by the looks of the Cultural Center audience,
      he is succeeding in his attempt to locate a midpoint between genres
      that often struggle to find common ground.
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