Any year that brought us Soundgarden, Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and Gunther Schuller can hardly be labeled a disappointment.
Maybe you could argue that the sheer quantity of great concerts was down in 1994. But the sheer quality was high, and the result was a year loaded with concert highlights.
As a way of sustaining the pleasure that these artists brought us, we asked our music critics to pick the best moments of the 1994 concert season. Music can be maddeningly transitory in the memory; we hope that these words, as written at the time of the concerts, can bring back some of those memories.
Jan. 6, at the Coliseum
Despite their haggard looks, the four members of Nirvana ripped through a brilliant set, fusing material from their grunge days on “Bleach,” to the newer, stirring “In Utero.” The songs were executed the way one would expect, loud and uncompromising. (Reviewed by Joe Ehrbar)
Northwest Bach Festival ‘94
Various locations, Jan. 15-23
Gunther Schuller and an inspired group of soloists proved that the music of Bach does not require a self-conscious “authenticity” to give it vitality and beauty.
Especially impressive was the extraordinary French harpsichordist, Ilton Wjuniski. The glowing intensity of his performance of preludes and fugues from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” revealed the universe of feeling Bach captured in these short masterpieces. (Travis Rivers)
The King’s Singers
Opera House, Jan. 16
If it’s true that the human voice is the perfect musical instrument, the King’s Singers ensemble brought something resembling perfection to the Opera House.
The crowd’s response to the folk song “Greensleeves” is a prime example. The song shifted seamlessly between bright contrapuntal verses and a pastoral chorus, and its conclusion, six male voices merged in an unearthly blend.
The crowd paused for a moment, then began to clap. The applause grew to a peak and held. Gradually, remarkably, the audience seemed to sense that something special was happening and their applause grew to a startling crescendo.
The tribute sustained itself so long even the singers appeared nonplussed. (Don Adair)
Spokane Coliseum, April 21
Gill is a first-rate guitar player, powerful songwriter and a transcendent singer. He touched so many musical bases - and did it so convincingly - that it would seem there is no kind of music he couldn’t master.
During the second set, Gill was relaxed and informal; he dispensed with the role of country music entertainer and dug into the music. It was a rare treat, and anyone who didn’t already know that Gill is a complete musician - perhaps country’s best all-around - knew it by show’s end. (Don Adair)
Spokane Coliseum, May 31
With its ability to capture wide-ranging moods in its songs, especially in the material from “Superunknown,” Soundgarden maintained the interest of both moshers and seated fans all evening.
Songs such as “Jesus Christ Pose,” “Limo Wreck,” “Slaves and Bulldozers” and “Room a Thousand Years Wide” seethed like bleeding ulcers. (Joe Ehrbar)
The Gorge, Aug. 31
One of the most magical moments of the day occurred during Smashing Pumpkins’ encore performance of “Mayonnaise.” As the song reached its climax, with Corgan crying out, “I just want to be/Me,” a gentle breeze blew from the stage out across the audience, carrying Corgan’s message in an almost surreal manner. (Joe Ehrbar)
The Met’s Sixth Anniversary Celebration
The Met, Oct. 1
This concert celebrated three ingredients important to Spokane’s musical life: (1) The 760-seat Metropolitan Performing Arts Center, an intimate space where we hear music from string quartets to heavy metal, (2) local and regional composers who continue to prove that modern classical music can be listenable and, yes, fun, and (3) the commitment to fine music from patrons such The Met’s founders, the Sandifur family, and musicians like those who perform on the Zephyr series, who make The Met their home stage. (Travis Rivers)
The Tragically Hip
The Met, Oct. 6
From start to finish, front-man Gordon Downie frantically paced around the stage like a caged animal. He stalked his mike stand when he wasn’t singing and went for the kill when he was. He was incredibly affected by the songs he voiced. By singing with his eyes closed, it seemed as though he was re-living each episode. He wasn’t just singing; he was chasing old ghosts. (Joe Ehrbar)
Opera House, Oct. 21
In just two songs, Lovett had laid out the emotional and musical terrain of the evening. Like a painter with a palette so full of colors he can’t contain himself, Lovett doesn’t even try to rein in his rampant enjoyment of sounds and textures and the moods they can convey.
With a sound rooted in gospel, blues and swing, he uses a shifting ensemble of horns, strings, percussion and singers to produce a sense of his songs that’s as critical to their meaning as the lyrics. (Don Adair)
The Spokane Symphony
Opera House, Oct. 28
Conductor Fabio Mechetti and soloists David Teie and Steven Honigberg brought the excitement and brilliance usually reserved for Beethoven and Tchaikovsky to David Ott’s Concerto for Two Cellos. The same program featured the Symphony Chorale in some exquisite singing of “Nanie” and “The Song of Destiny,” two rarely-performed works by Brahms. (Travis Rivers)
Hobart’s Jazz Lounge, Dec. 6
Babkas is a dynamic young new-jazz trio that played three coruscating sets for a sum total of perhaps 30 people. Their guitar-sax-drums lineup is unorthodox but sophisticated songwriting, precise ensemble work and powerful soloing put them at the heart of jazz experimentation, ‘90s-style. (Don Adair)