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Raising a glass to Pink Martini

Spokane embraces eclectic mix of Portland musicians

Pink Martini was considered a quirky and somewhat mysterious Portland cult act when it first arrived in Spokane in 1998.

Back then, most Spokane Symphony SuperPops subscribers had no idea what to expect from this classical-lounge-swing-world-music conglomeration. Their first CD, “Sympathique,” was already out, but on its own small, independent label.

Then Spokane contracted Pink Martini mania. The audience was seduced by a fiery “Bolero” and an atmospheric “Andalucia.” They gave the band a seemingly endless ovation, and wouldn’t let them leave the stage. The band had to have a quick huddle to decide what else they could play as an encore.

“This has never happened to us before,” said one of the singers, apologetically.

At intermission, the line to purchase “Sympathique” stretched into the hundreds.

Pink Martini has been a Spokane favorite ever since. They’ve been back several times, including in 2004 when they reduced their fees for a benefit concert for the Spokane Symphony. Their sold-out show on Saturday will be a slight departure, since they won’t be backed by the symphony (although the show is sponsored by the symphony). This will be a straight-up Pink Martini cocktail.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has discovered the joys of the Pink Martini style. Their Saturday night appearance comes on the heels of performances at Carnegie Hall and Wolf Trap. They have since recorded two more hit CDs, “Hang On, Little Tomato” in 2004 and “Hey Eugene!” in 2007.

Band leader and founder Thomas Lauderdale explained the band’s eclectic appeal on the official Web site: “At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment, you are suddenly in a French music hall of the 1930s or in a palazzo in Napoli. It’s like an urban musical travelogue.”

Pink Martini was created in 1994 by the classically trained Harvard grad Lauderdale as a small outfit playing progressive fundraisers in Portland. Vocalist and “diva next door” China Forbes – an old Harvard friend – joined in 1995. They were once described as “the house band for Portland society.” But by 1998, their music was circling the world.

Most of the band members (fluctuating from between 10 and 14) are from Portland – some of them play with the Oregon Symphony – but they have developed an enthusiastic audience base in France, among other places. Some of their songs are, after all, sung in French.

The Pink Martini “travelogue” is not just European. They have also been known to do Japanese and Egyptian songs. “Musical archaeologists” is another term that Lauderdale has used to describe the band.

Their Spokane appearance will probably also include selections from a new, as-yet unnamed album scheduled to arrive on Oct. 13.