by Matthew Sheby
In mid-April, SoundtrackNet attended the two performances of an unconventional rock concert at the Roxy in West Hollywood, CA. La-La Land Records, the label distributing the music of Bear McCreary, and CineMedia Promotions, which has promoted McCreary's Battlestar Galactica soundtracks, had organized a live performance of his score to the television program. Demand was so high for the tickets of the initial sole performance of April 13th that a second date was added for the 15th. This review focuses on the April 13th show.
Eager fans wait outside of the Roxy in Los Angeles
Two factors went into organizing the concert. The first and primary goal was to reward fans of the soundtrack (and series – two closely overlapping groups) for their enthusiasm by enabling them to hear the music in a live setting. The second desire, not mentioned aloud but borne out by interviews with personnel, was to express a genuine fondness for the person of Bear McCreary himself.
The concert itself was opened by "Brendan's Band," a rock band formed by Brendan McCreary, brother of composer Bear. Comprised of a violin, guitars, drum kit, and percussion, the younger McCreary's extremely charismatic stage presence swiftly drew the devotional attention of the attending women.
Brendan's Band attracted a certain type of fan
He and his band played about six tracks, the first of which was a fast-paced acoustic rock number that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The third was an interesting rockabilly piece with ties to Battlestar Galactica, as it was written to be diegetic bar music. Following that with a slower, Prince-like number, Brendan's Band finished off its set with two more up-tempo rock songs. Without taking into account its connection to the television show, Brendan's Band delivered a phenomenal live rock show. We believe the band would do very well with national exposure, playing the college festival circuit.
Emcee James Callis ("Gaius Baltar") introduces composer Bear McCreary
Afterward the break, the BSG session players took the stage. With Bear conducting from among them, the first cue from the score was "A Distant Sadness" complete with strings and gamelan, followed by "Precipice," a sonic wall of percussion and strings. "Wander My Friends" was a highlight that featured Eric Rigler playing the Irish pipes and Brendan McCreary singing. It played over scenes of the character "Apollo" resigning his naval (astral?) commission and leaving his military life behind. This was followed by the taiko drums of "Fight Night" (a second wall of reverberating taiko drums).
The BSG team rocks the house
The next piece of music was unexpected for the audience. James Callis (BSG's Gaius Baltar), who emceed the night's concert, came out to join the band on stage. He composed the hard-driving arena rock track called "Spooky", a track that we can best compare to James Bond jamming with Metallica on "Enter Sandman." Earlier in the evening, we had the opportunity to speak with James Callis about this track, as well as his involvement with the evening's concert. Callis himself described the song as a "sexy shindig" that involved the theme of meeting someone for the first time and realizing that person was one's soul mate. He made the thematic comparison to the relationship between his own character Baltar and lover, the "Caprica Six" Cylon. In further conversation, Callis explained how he taught himself piano growing up and without formal training, which led to some apprehension many years later when he encountered Bear McCreary at Mel's Diner. The subject of music came up, and McCreary wanted to hear the songs Callis had mentioned writing. Remembering his impromptu performance when preparing for tonight's concert, McCreary asked Callis to join him on stage, a decision much relished by the excited and eager audience.
McCreary conducts the string quartet in "A Promise to Return"
"Black Market" had thunderous guitars and scorchingly loud metal that ended the first half of the score performance with extremely hard rock. Giving the audience's ears time to recuperate, a self-deprecating video on the importance of music in Battlestar Galactica was aired. After much laughter, the music came back with the string quartet in "A Promise to Return." The concert then ramped in intensity over the next few numbers, with violinist Paul Cartwright playing so frenetically it looked as if he would lose five pounds in water weight by the end of the night. Music came to a plateau at "Dirty Hands" and its slide guitar, lots of funky bass, and thunderous, nonstop drumming. "Lords of Kobol" extended this with ethereal vocals by an enchanting Raya Yarbrough. The night, however, was climaxed by the lengthy rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," brought to life by Brendan McCreary. Sounding like a undiscovered collaboration between Metallica and Michael Kamen, it was very loud, very crunchy, and very amenable to head banging.
Chris Bleth plays the duduk
Raya Yarbrough sings "Lords of Kobol"
Brendan McCreary sings "All Along the Watchtower"
SoundtrackNet had the opportunity over the course of the evening to speak with several people involved in the show's production, many of whom were performing that evening. These discussions reveal that rather than a random grouping of contracted musicians, the soundtrack's performers came together organically through networking and social contacts. Furthermore, they all expressed admiration for Bear McCreary. For instance, Steve Bartek spoke briefly about his role in the night's concert, his second live performance of a television score (the first being the 2006 BSG concert). Bartek does "all the guitar stuff," as he put it, for the soundtrack. So how did he get involved with the show in the first place? Bear met Doug Lacy who introduced him to Richard Gibbs who in turn brought him to Bartek. (Also of Oingo Boingo fame? Percussionist Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez.) Mike Valerio, player of the night's very funky bass, has known Bear McCreary for years. He was enthusiastic in playing with the man whom he called a "giving composer" in that he felt he "got to f- around and get away with something" when playing in his sessions. Further extending this theme of networking, he had previously played with Raya Yarbrough. The singer/songwriter was a music major at USC, where Bear as well received his degree in composition. When there, she was called in to perform on student films on which he was the composer, which led to her continuing to the present day in working professionally with McCreary. (As an aside, her debut self-titled album is excellent. Her cover of "Mood Indigo" is an absolute delight.) This led, in turn, to the involvement of her father, Latin percussionist Martin Yarbrough, with Brendan's band and Bear's sessions.
SoundtrackNet's Matthew Sheby (right) talks with Martin Yarbrough (center right)
A veteran of Earth, Wind, and Fire, Yarbrough revealed he knew the brothers McCreary after Bear began dating his daughter. (SoundtrackNet is sorry to disappoint any hopeful suitors, but Dad says they're serious.) Yarbourgh père relayed his enjoyment at playing with the "amazing" composer. Chris Bleth, who performed brilliantly on duduk and flutes that evening, expressed a similar sentiment. He explained that McCreary "really pushed" him to the edge of what he could express with the ethnic instruments he played, resulting in a "really great sound." To a soul, each musician who spoke with SoundtrackNet expressed a genuine liking of Bear McCreary. They had as much fun playing for him as did the audience who packed the Roxy to hear them do so.
The BSG band plays out for the crowd
The team takes their bows
Finally, SoundtrackNet was also able to learn information about the back ten episodes of Battlestar Galactica to air later this fall. This writer is able to exclusively confirm that the "twelfth Cylon" will be revealed as the charac+++
Bear McCreary has graciously provided SoundtrackNet with exclusive 30-second samples of the live recording from every BSG piece performed in the concert. We hope you enjoy these MP3 snippets!
A Distant Sadness
Roslin and Adama
Wander My Friends
A Promise to Return
Something Dark is Coming
Lords of Kobol
Heeding the Call / All Along the Watchtower
Black Market (Encore)
|Brendan McCreary||vocals, acoustic and electric guitars|
|James Callis||vocals (Spooky), emcee (night one)|
|Kandyse McClure||emcee (night two)|
|Chris Bleth||duduk, bansuri, membrane flutes|
|Eric Rigler||Irish whistles, Uilleann pipes|
|Steve Bartek||acoustic and electric guitars|
|Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez||drum kit|
|Paul Cartwright||acoustic and electric violin, mandolin|
|Bear McCreary||keyboards, conductor|
Special thanks to Beth Krakower at Cinemedia Promotions, Michael Gerhard and Matt Verboys at La-La Land Records
Photos by Dan Goldwasser