Van Dyke Parks, Inara George - Getty Center - 11/5/11
See also: Van Dyke Parks Re-emerges with a Set of Singles
Christina Limson O'Connell
An Invitation with Inara George and Van Dyke Parks
The Harold M. Williams Theater at the Getty
Better than...listening to Shelley Duvall sing for an hour and a half.
High above the 405, in a theater as steep as the mountain it's built upon, composer/lyricist/raconteur Van Dyke Parks offered a personal career retrospective. Before a full house of graying beards and fedoras -- and as part of Pacific Standard Time -- Parks was joined by pixie vocalist Inara George for much of the concert, including a complete performance of their 2008 collaboration "An Invitation."
Parks and George were supported by a fourteen piece chamber orchestra that was stocked exclusively with swaying strings and mellow woodwinds. Without the benefit of drums, much of the rhythmic work was carried by Parks' heavy-fisted piano and the lone soloist of the evening, guitarist Grant Geissman. The orchestra was placed on one half of the stage, with Parks loosely conducting from his score-draped piano. George occupied the other half, occasionally supported by three limber dancers in tattered, sleeveless formal wear.
The first half of the performance was as much about George as it was Parks. She stood out among the entirely black-clad orchestra in a white dress with a long train. It had the look of folded wings during her nearly motionless performance. Her impossibly pure soprano was nimbly supported by Parks' unmistakable arrangements of see-sawing violins and syncopated basslines. The delicate tango of "Idaho" was matched by the subdued lust of "Dirty White," which featured a breathtaking (and slightly nerve-wracking) dance that had choreographer Lexi Pearl dangling nearly 40 feet above the stage.
Christina Limson O'Connell
The second half focused on the rest of Parks' career, visiting songs like "The All Golden" from his late-'60s masterwork Song Cycle, and "Orange Crate Art," his mid-'90s collaboration with Brian Wilson. George returned for a few barefoot duets including a close-harmonied "Opportunity for Two." Through it all Parks was as entertaining between songs as he was in the midst of them, touching upon everything from Qantas to Darwinism and referring to the concert itself as "a testament to durable goods."
The encore featured a bouncing performance of the Nilsson-penned, Popeye classic "He Needs Me." George gave a smiling and earnest reading that put Shelley Duval to shame.
Impressively, the orchestra only had one rehearsal and had never played any of the evening's repertoire before an audience. Clearly the group had been loaded with ringers, though, because they ebbed and flowed effortlessly, responding to every one of Parks' hasty gestures with amazing precision. At 68, Parks still has the energy of a schoolboy, even kneeling and bowing towards the end of his concert in one of countless humble acknowledgements of the audience. It was an excellent performance by an unsung master of popular song whose way with words is as sharp as ever.
Personal Bias: "Columnated ruins domino" is one of the greatest song lyrics ever.
The Crowd: Out of 600 seats, seemingly the great majority were on the guest list.
Random Notebook Dump: Eric Idle held the men's room door open for me.
Set list below.