BSG Orchestra HOB Concerts – Highlights

“What you’re going to hear tonight are the musicians that have literally given us some of the finest music the world’s ever heard.”
- Edward James Olmos

I’m back from a whirlwind week in San Diego for Comic Con, and have lived to tell the tale!  I’ve collected here just a few of the memorable highlights from our Battlestar Galactica Orchestra concerts…

First of all, the interview above is among my most vivid memories of Comic Con ’09.  Edward James Olmos was being interviewed by NBCSanDiego.com and literally pulled the mic out of the host’s hands.  He immediately took over the production, interviewing me and the two vocalists in my band, Raya Yarbrough and Brendan McCreary.  This would be just one of countless surprises I experienced during these shows.

(This picture pretty much says it all: CLICK TO EMBIGGEN)

The Battlestar Galactica Orchestra concerts at the House of Blues during Comic Con were a smashing success.  Cast, crew, writers, musicians and fans of this beloved series had the chance to gather and experience the score in live performances.  I was able to live a bit of the rock star life, signing autographs and taking pictures with fans everywhere I went.  With the amount of time I spend in the studio writing music all day, this was a welcome change of pace!  And the shows themselves… words can not describe how incredible the rush is being on that stage, hearing the crowd out there and feeling them connect with the music as we make it.  I wish I could do this everyday!

The concerts began with Admiral Adama himself, Edward James Olmos, speaking to the crowd.  Like many BSG fans, he was familiar with the score but had never seen the orchestra in performance before.  Right from the beginning, the opening act, BrEndAn’s Band, blew him away.  Having heard them on Thursday, he gave them an extra special introduction on Friday night: “You guys are in for one of the most extraordinary evenings of music that I’ve experienced.  My first time was yesterday, when I saw them live.  And I have to tell you that I was given a mind-blowing experience by what happened before the orchestra came out.  What you’re about to experience right now is something I’m very proud to say blew me away: an originality, and a real strong performer.  This group is fantastic.  And it happens to be family members, ok?  This is a family affair.”

My brother then marched onstage wearing a military flight suit and white sunglasses he found at writer / producer David Weddle’s 4th of July party (they probably belong to someone who works on the show, actually!).  His band, and his original songs, totally kicked ass.  Raya sang backing vocals, and Steve Bartek played lead guitar, making them the three musicians who literally never got a break for 3.5 hours each night.  They opened with “Ain’t We Famous,” from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and wrapped up with “When Will the Work Be Done,” from Daybreak.

Brendan and Raya have each put up their song from Battlestar Galactica as a free download on their MySpace pages.  Click on the links below to download them, and complete your BSG music collection:

“When Will the Work Be Done” by BrEndAn’s Band
From the Episode Daybreak

“Lords Knows I Would” by Raya Yarbrough
From the Episodes Takin’ a Break From All Your Worries and Escape Velocity

BrEndAn’s Band were the perfect opening group because, by the time they finished, the audience was going crazy.  And then, the BSG Orchestra took the stage to play for over two hours.  The following pictures (unless noted, taken by Andrew Craig) are just a few of the highlights of these concerts that will linger in my memory forever.  There are links to the complete photo sets at the bottom of the entry, if you want to see more.  If you were there, you can remember how intense this was, and if you weren’t, well… you can get a tiny taste of what you missed.

I’ve found I have trouble explaining to people who weren’t there what, exactly, I do at these concerts.  Is it conducting?  Playing? … Dancing?  I’m not quite sure.  Maybe a bit of everything.  :)

Fans who came to opening night were treated to a surprise appearance by Katee Sackhoff, who joined me on stage to play “Kara Remembers,” the introduction to “Heeding the Call” and “All Along the Watchtower.”  She and I had played this together before, at the California Plaza concert in June.  Katee is so sweet and radiant in person, it is always a joy to share the stage with her.

Because of the chaos of Comic Con, she and I didn’t have any time to rehearse this time around.  She actually flubbed a few notes, and giggled with the audience.  However, I thought this really heightened the experience.  After all, we were recreating a scene where Kara struggled to remember how to play the song; that’s exactly what Katee did on stage.  I actually preferred her natural performance here to the one at California Plaza where we had rehearsed it.  Once Katee got the tune under her fingers again, she was rockin’ out with the rest of the band.

Another magical moment I’ll never forget was playing “Kara Remembers” on Friday and Saturday night when I didn’t have Katee to help me.  I played the solo piano intro myself, but teased the audience as I pretended to struggle with the Final Four Theme.  I played a few notes, then stopped.  Played a few more, then stopped.  This continued for a couple minutes and then, I played the Final Four theme in it’s entire 12-note phrase, slowly and deliberately.  The audience erupted into cheers when they heard it!

That’s when it really hit me how well you guys know my music.  This simple 12-note melody played with one finger on a piano was enough to elicit the orgiastic screams usually reserved for shredding guitar solos.  I felt right at home in that hall with all of you, and of course, once the band kicked into “Heeding the Call,” the energy only became more intense.

Brendan McCreary’s lead vocals on “Watchtower” always bring down the house, but his performances of the Gaelic lyrics to “Wander My Friends” were especially poignant in these concerts.

He also sang the lead vocals on a very special tribute song we performed on the Saturday night show: Earth Song, by Michael Jackson.  That night was the one month anniversary of Jackson’s death.  My announcement that we would acknowledge Jackson was met with some surprised laughter in the back, probably because it was such a departure from audience expectation that people must have assumed I was kidding.  But, I’d never joke about the death of a brilliant musician and we set them straight pretty quick, launching into a powerful cover of one of Jackson’s most epic compositions.  Brendan knocked it out of the park, backed by the strings, taiko drums and rock band.

Here’s a bootleg of “Earth Song” from Novika69.  The audio / video quality leaves a lot to be desired, but it gives you a basic idea of what we were up to.  And this can tide you over until we get our bad-ass DVD footage and live album together!  :)

After the song, I explained to the crowd that I had selected “Earth Song” not only because it was so musically satisfying, but because it related lyrically to Battlestar Galactica. It could have been featured in the show, and been totally appropriate.  I also explained that Michael was a huge influence on me musically (the closing minute of “The Temple of Five” contains a shameless quote of the percussion from “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” check it out!).  I was absolutely devastated by Michael’s passing, as I am with all musicians who leave us before sharing everything in their potential.  However, I was thankful we had the chance to acknowledge the milestone of our first month in a world without Michael Jackson.

As in previous concerts, Raya Yarbrough sang lead vocals on “A Distant Sadness” and “Lords of Kobol.”  However, she also provided haunting performances on two new pieces: “The Cult of Baltar” and “Apocalypse” (The Theme from “The Plan”), as well as backing vocals on several other tunes.

Friday night was especially powerful because it became an impromptu memorial tribute to producer Harvey Frand, who passed away the day before.  Many members of the cast and crew gathered on stage and shared their thoughts and feelings about him.  It was an emotional moment, because we had all just found out about his death.  So, what should have been an intimate, private conversation between old friends was suddenly on stage, shared with everyone in the audience.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, where the cast, crew, musicians and fans truly bonded like a family.  The Thursday and Saturday shows were equally solid performances from the orchestra, but Friday night was magical.  (Thanks to Marcin Wichary for this shot taken from the VIP section.)

Michael Hogan (“Col. Saul Tigh”) reminisced that one of his favorite lines in the show was “Does anyone else hear that FRAKKIN’ MUSIC?!” to thunderous applause.  Hearing him say that in person, on stage, in front of all my musicians and our instruments… was a geeky thrill!

The audience started out the night as fans of the series, but by the end, they were fans of everyone in the band.  Perhaps no musician was subject to more cheers, applause and targeted underwear throwing (ok, that hasn’t happened yet) than violinist Paul Cartwright.  By the third night, fans were chanting his name before the show even started! He was so fantastic as the featured soloist in ”Baltar’s Dream” that we had to wait for the audience to cheer for him a second time before moving on to the next song.  Yeah, Paulie!

There were many guests that hopped up on stage each night, several of whom were a surprise even to me!  I was backstage watching as Eddie introduced them and practically fell out of my chair when he introduced Michelle Forbes (“Admiral Helena Cain”).  I had no idea she was even there!  I had never met her before, and regrettably didn’t have a chance to introduce myself at the concert.  Michelle, if you’re reading… email me!  :)

Michael Trucco (“Sam Anders”) and director Michael Nankin shared their memories of Harvey Frand and their enthusiasm for the band.  Executive producer David Eick read Harvey’s official obituary notice minutes after it hit the trades.

One of the other rockstars of the concerts was woodwind maestro Chris Bleth.  Chris is a soft-spoken and relatively low-key personality.  He’s probably not used to gigantic crowds cheering in ecstasy as he plays melodies on the duduk, bansuri or membrane flute.  Nevertheless, he played all these unusual instruments with passion, and really ignited the crowd.

Watching the audience respond to him, made me realize an unintended result of these live concerts.  I’m hopeful that once fans have seen this orchestra play together, once they have witnessed Chris Bleth’s duduk, Paul Cartwright’s blistering violin solos, Steve Bartek’s shredding guitar, MB Gordy smashing taiko sticks into splinters, that they will have a new appreciation for them when they revisit the series on DVD.

The next time you guys hear a bansuri solo in any episode of BSG, you can now picture in your imagination the man who is actually playing it.  I can’t think of another film or TV score where all the musicians were so unique and irreplaceable, and I’m thrilled that you guys now have the ability to place a name and a face to an instrumental or vocal performance.

SET LIST:

SET 1:
A DISTANT SADNESS
PRECIPICE
WAYWARD SOLDIER
CULT OF BALTAR
PEGASUS
PASSACAGLIA
ROSLIN AND ADAMA
WANDER MY FRIENDS
THE DANCE
FIGHT NIGHT
DREILIDE THRACE SONATA NO.1
STORMING NEW CAPRICA
_
SET 2:
APOCALYPSE
BALTAR’S DREAM
SOMETHING DARK IS COMING
ELEGY
CAPRICA
GAETA’’S LAMENT
GINA ESCAPES
DIRTY HANDS
LORDS OF KOBOL
PRELUDE TO WAR
EARTH SONG (SAT. ONLY)

KARA REMEMBERS / HEEDING THE CALL
ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER

ENCORE:
COLONIAL ANTHEM
BLACK MARKET

When I wasn’t at soundcheck or in preparation for the concerts, I spent my days at Comic Con.  Thursday, I was part of Richard Hatch’s Battlestar Retrospective, with Luciana Carro (“Kat”), writer / producer Michael Taylor, Richard Hatch (“Tom Zarek”), science consultant Kevin Grazier and producer Tom DeSanto who’s ill-fated reboot of “Galactica” was abandoned by its studio weeks before production was to begin in the fall of 2001.  I’ve been on Richard’s panels in the past, but this one was the most fun.  It was entirely open to questions from the audience and people’s answers were frank, honest and quite funny.  (Thanks to Popcultref for the pic!)

Mixing engineer Dennis Moody snapped this picture out front.  This was about 8am on the day of opening night, and it’s the first picture I have standing before a marquee with my name on it.  I didn’t take a picture like this at The Mint in 2006 because they misspelled “Galactica.”  Then, at the Roxy last year… they misspelled my name.  Well, third time’s the charm, apparently.

Richard Hatch (“Tom Zarek” / “Apollo” on Classic BSG) was the host of my very first concert in 2006 at The Mint.  Grace Park (“Sharon Valerii”) was our official MC this year for Friday and Saturday.  James Callis (“Gaius Baltar”) hosted last year at The Roxy Theater.  It was a thrill to have them all together this time.

Cellist Tina Guo brought the frakkin’ shred for her solo on “Apocalypse.”  She is an incredibly unique performer, and the audience loved her.  I’m telling you guys who weren’t there… this song killed.  When you hear the studio version of it over the end credits of “The Plan,” you are in for a real treat.

Luciana Carro (“Kat”), Nicki Clyne (“Cally”), Grace Park (“Sharon Valerii”) and Tahmoh Penikett (“Helo”).  It was so cool seeing Helo and Athena together again!

As soon as I picked this bad boy up, the audience basically exploded.  Rarely in life does one play an accordion to such applause.  :)  Contrary to my initial hesitations about including it, “The Dance” might have been the most fun piece of the night.  The audience clapped through the whole song, and some of them were even dancing!  This piece was fun on the album, but in concert it was truly spectacular.  I can’t believe I had ever considered not playing it.

Our incredible percussion section (L-R): Jonathan Ortega, M.B. Gordy and Bruce Carver.  By the end of the three nights, the back row was littered with splintered drum sticks.

Oingo Boingo alum Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez on drum kit.  On the last night, Johnny gave us his decimated drum heads and the entire band autographed them.  During the last song, Brendan picked these collector’s items up and threw them into the crowd. The drum heads sailed like frisbees!  He almost nailed Dennis Moody in the head behind the mixing board!  I saw one fan at the autograph signing who had one.  I don’t know who got the other two, but they’re out there somewhere.  :)

The guitarists (L-R): Ira Ingber stole the show during his bad-ass solo in “Dirty Hands,” while Mike Valerio held down the bass lines.

Oingo Boingo alum and BSG guitar virtuouso Steve Bartek played solos that night that blew us all away.  While he was soloing in “Gina Escapes,” Brendan actually looked over at me and mouthed “Holy F&@k!” We couldn’t believe what we were hearing.  In this picture, Steve is playing the iconic Electric Sitar on “Heeding the Call,” that you’ve always heard in “Watchtower” and the Final Four scenes throughout Season 4.

Eric Rigler was a special guest for “Wander My Friends” during our 2008 shows, but this year he was a full-fledged band member, playing not only that song, but “The Dance,” “Colonial Anthem” and the barn-burner “Storming New Caprica” that was the highlight of the entire concert for me.  The big climactic sections of “Storming New Caprica” were so energetic and bombastic, it felt like the Galactica was about to drop right in on us!

Our technical artists and artistic technicians, Charlie Unkeless (L) ran lights and Dennis Moody (R) did the live house mix, with some helpful suggestions from Eddie Olmos.

After three intense days, Raya, Brendan and I finally had Sunday off to explore Comic Con.  In the first five minutes wandering around the convention floor, we stumbled upon the booth where the BSG gang were signing autographs.  Eddie immediately brought us back behind the table so we could all catch up.  I apologize to all the fans who were left waiting in line while Eddie, Hogan and James hung out with us… but when the Admiral requests, you don’t disappoint.  :)   (Thanks to Chris Holoka for these great pictures!)

One of the most surreal parts of Comic Con was being recognized so frequently by people.  In previous years, this happened a couple times.  But, this time, I basically couldn’t take 10 steps without someone stopping for an autograph or to say how much BSG means to them.  And one of the funniest things I observed, was that people who didn’t know me began staring when fans stopped for autographs and pictures.  I could see their minds racing: “Who the hell is this guy and why are all these people talking to him?  Is he famous or something?  Should I be asking for his autograph too?” It was pretty funny.

The strings this year really locked in and sounded better than ever before.  I even heard quite a few calls of “STRINGS KICK ASS!” from the audience.  And yes, they really did.  The quartet featured Robbie Anderson on violin …

… Tom “Dirty Brahms” Lea on viola, who earned his unusual nickname in 2005 and 2006 at our “Johnny Vatos Tribute to Halloween” Concerts
_
_
… Paul Cartwright on lead violin, who looks like he sold his soul to the devil in this picture …

… and Tina Guo on cello, who did things to that instrument that are probably illegal in Utah.

The first day of soundcheck had a little downtime, so I goofed around a bit.  I didn’t actually do this in the concert, but it would’ve been cool, wouldn’t it?  BTW, that music on the piano in the background is “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1.”  I had to print it on 11×17 paper so I could avoid page turns.  Even though I wrote it and played it myself, I don’t have it memorized yet.  :)

For the encore in previous years, we’ve played “Black Market,” which always worked well.  But this time, I wanted to give fans a little more.  This time, the encore began with the 4 drummers on stage alone, pounding out an intense beat.  Then, Eric Rigler marched out with his Great Highland Pipes.  It was frakkin’ badass.  I wanted to see him on horseback with the Braveheart facepaint on (maybe next time).

Then, the orchestra returned to the stage and we burst into a full, triumphant rock version of “Colonial Anthem!”  I always knew I wanted to feature Stu Phillips’ classic theme in the concert somewhere, and this was the perfect moment to do it.  This marked what I can only assume is the first time the iconic, original BSG theme song has ever been performed by bagpipes, strings, taiko drums, ethnic soloists and rock band!

The arrangement began with the opening chords of “Colonial Anthem,” and built up from there, teasing the audience with small quotations of the melody before the big, full statement.  One of the most exciting parts of the show was hearing the audience slowly pick up on these clues, and the huge cheer we got when we finally burst into Stu Phillip’s theme.

As soon as we hit the last note, Bartek kicked into the intense opening riff of “Black Market,” and we transitioned directly into that powerhouse rock tune to close out the night.  The drums and band were so loud and powerful, I thought we were going to shake the venue apart.  In fact, one of the greatest compliments I heard from a fan all weekend was a girl who told me that she might never again be able to attend a punk concert because it would sound so weak in comparison to the BSG Orchestra.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

*        *        *

On the day of our last show, I signed copies of the Season 4 album at the “La La Land Records / Screen Archives Entertainment / Film Score Monthly” booth.  The booth was actually so small that you wouldn’t be able to fit those three company names on it without running off the edge of the table.  :)  But, it was a perfect chance to meet fans and sign autographs in a more relaxed atmosphere.  (It should be telling how insanely intense our concerts were that I would describe the convention floor at Comic Con as “more relaxed!”)

I glanced across the walkway, and whom do I see signing autographs there, but Nicki Clyne!  The night before, Nicki had been at my concert, on stage with the rest of the cast.  However, she and Michelle Forbes were the two cast members I’d never met yet, so I ran over and threw my arms around her before she’d have a chance to disappear into the crowd.

Like the rest of the BSG cast, she is absolutely lovely in person and was beaming from our concert the night before.  (And thanks to Beth Krakower for snapping this picture of us with her Blackberry.)

A few days later, Nicki sent a lovely note to me and the members of the orchestra.  It was so eloquent, and summarized our experiences so perfectly, that I asked her if I could share it with all of you on the blog here:

“With my limited musical background, I had no idea how to even hypothesize what it might take to create a score as riveting and beautiful as Battlestar’s.  All I knew is that it consistently pushed me over the edge during moments of emotional conflict, bridging the gap between discomfort and catharsis.  In my ignorance, I was more likely to imagine a sweaty nerd surrounded by computers and musical gadgets (sorry Bear, I hadn’t met you yet), than the incredible amalgamation of humanity, joy, passion, and dedication I had the privilege of witnessing Friday night.  I wanted to share my experience of the performance because I found it so deeply moving and would like to thank all of you who participated.  Never have I seen a group of musicians who expressed so joyfully and with such conviction, even through the harshest moments of darkness and despair; all with an apparent understanding of how each part related to the whole.  I had a sense that no one would rather be anywhere other than where they were, which inspired in me a sense of freedom and release, allowing a deeper connection to the music, and myself.  Ultimately, it was a celebration of the human experience, in all its emotional diversity, and a recognition of what is possible when we connect with each other on a level that leads to something greater than ourselves.  I want you to know how much I appreciate your commitment, authenticity and expression of joy in bringing Bear’s vision and the world of Battlestar Galactica to life.  I regret not being able to share this in person, but please know your music touches all of us and allows your unique expression to live on.

With love and admiration,
Nicki Clyne”

Thank you, Nicki.  You said it better than I ever could.

*        *        *

That basically summarizes my week, although there were countless more experiences I wish I had time and energy to write about.  Thankfully, there are many pictures and other records of the strange journey that we took.

If you are enjoying these photos by Andrew Craig, then check out the complete sets at the following links.  Thanks for the incredible work, Andrew!

Thursday, July 23rd

Friday, July 24th

Saturday, July 25th

During our many shows this summer, we’ve managed to collect more than just great pictures.  We captured outstanding audio and video as well.  Keep an eye out at BSGOrchestra.com for details on an upcoming LIVE ALBUM and CONCERT DVD.  We’ll also release exclusive videos and recordings there as well.  And, if you want us to come to your home town / state / country / continent, log in to the forums there and let your voice be heard.  The band is gathering momentum here and we want to take this show on the road!

So Say We All!

-Bear

PS: Thanks to everyone from whom I borrowed pictures and video, especially Marcin Wichary who got the great shot of the HOB marquee at the top of the page!  Also, I’ve seen some great reviews and recaps of the concerts online, but this one at Io9 is my favorite so far.

UPDATE 8-6-09: The Season 4 album charted #195 on Billboard’s TOP 200!  (#14 in soundtracks)  That’s the first time any record of mine has cracked into Billboard’s rankings!