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Friday, May 13, 2016

Live Review: The Portland Cello Project Was a Far Cry From What I Was Expecting

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2016 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge Rock'n'roll the Portland Cello Project is not. - WILLIE CLARK
  • Willie Clark
  • Rock'n'roll the Portland Cello Project is not.

I did not enjoy my first experience with PCP.

The band, that is, not the drug. The Portland Cello Project played Thursday evening at Slim's, and it was more Bach than rock, and I was not digging it.

The 9-year-old collective is billed as a crossover act, mixing jazz, classical, and rock, but on that particular night, PCP (which consists of four cellists and one percussionist) leaned heavily on its classical roots and never played anything that was more than an extension of the idea that it might be cool to take a song not written for cello and play it on, well, cello.

I mean sure, there was a mixture of tunes thrown in that were genre crossing (according to the band’s website, their repertoire includes over 1,000 songs). And you don’t often hear a cover of Gershwin's "Summertime" and Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" at the same concert. But PCP needed to do something more than just take rock tunes and play them on a cello and call it a day. Nobody wants to hear rock songs stripped down and siphoned through a classical filter. People want to hear cellos tearing bows and strings in the same way a rock guitarist would. I thought that was the point, and I thought that's what I was getting into. But I was wrong.

Merely arranging songs, like Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” for cello and expecting it to stand on its own because it's cool and hip to have a cello play that tune doesn’t work. If you remove the speed, tempo, volume, intensity, and energy of metal and rock songs, then you remove a lot of what defines those genres.

Novelty is simply not enough for music, let alone a whole concert, to stand on. I can play songs from Frozen on a recorder through my nose, but that doesn't mean that people are going to want to pay to see it.

And sure, PCP might be good for what they are, just what they are is far from what I was expecting or wanted to hear. There were moments —slivers here and there — where the idea worked, when the band wasn't just relying on the idea of playing random songs on cello, but those moments were all too brief before the group would settle back into something slow and borderline boring.

Though credit is deserved where credit is due. The group's rendition of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" was beautiful, but also an odd choice that didn't work any to help the argument that cellos can play loud and rocking tunes just like any other instrument.

The last two songs saw the band getting closer to the performance I was expecting: The Black Sabbath song the band ended with had some of the volume and speed that you’d expect for a cello-driven rock and roll jam. And the encore, "Hall of the Mountain King," was also a more lively rendition of what I was expecting the band to play throughout the night.

But for most everything else, something was lost in the translation. Sadly, the Portland Cello Project is far from being a convincing argument for how cool cellos are.

Critic's Notebook:
-Man, does every band feel compelled to do a Prince cover now?
-I play tuba. I get the hate on the less sexy instruments. But you need to do more than just appeal to people who play cello.
-OK, I can't play the soundtrack to Frozen on the recorder, but I can play a recorder through my nose. 
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Willie Clark

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