Ben Lee with WASOWhen rock turned into pop, and the Beatles became the first worldwide, mass-media phenomenon of its kind, music was greeted with a perfect match between orchestral arrangements and electrical instruments. The genius behind such reverberating harmony, George Martin, set the standards too high right at the beginning, and might have created a match unfair to play for most that attempted to do the same in years to come. That idea was obsessively hammering our mind during much of the opening night of Ben Lee's concert supported by the West Australian Symphonic Orchestra (WASO).

The word “supported” is there on purpose. Because it was sad to see some of the finest WA musicians betrayed by scores outlining arrangements that, most of the time, reduced their talent to a supporting role. The alternative to making fine musicians sound mostly like a background synth would have been to get some inspiration from the not too far past. Without having to go as far as David Campbell's work for Kiss in 2003, when all Melbourne Symphony Orchestra members dressed in a full Kiss attire to give a spectacular performance, why wasn't WASO as brilliant this time, with Aussie Ben Lee, as it was during American Ben Fold's presentation, right there, at the same King's Park, in 2005?

Putting aside the torture of seeing nearly 100 musicians on stage almost twiddling their musical thumbs most of the time, Ben Lee's outdoor gig at the King's Park was enjoyable after all. Despite his big success, Ben's lyrics and music are still a matter of taste, but it is impossible not to appreciate his charismatic and funny performance. This was the case not only when he played alone, or with his band, but also when he was being backed by WASO. Ben Lee made several jokes, the more fortunate one before Numb, from Ripe, his latest CD. The singer and songwriter took his mobile phone and said he was calling his fiancé, so she could hear her most beloved song. Nobody answered and an “embarrassed” Lee left a message, followed by the audience cheering enthusiastically, and finally by the song itself.

Funnily enough, it was during Numb that WASO seemed to have woken up, and for the first time the crowd appeared to have noticed there was an orchestra there. The audience then clearly became more enthused with the fact there were now the two major attractions they came to see on stage, Ben Lee and WASO. Ah, yes, the American singer and actress Mandy Moore was also invited to back Lee's singing on Numb, and remained on stage for Birds and bees and So hungry, both also from Ripe. But disappeared so much in the background that nobody in the audience echoed her choruses in So hungry, even when Ben Lee cheered the public to do so. During these three songs, in contrast to Mandy Moore's fading, WASO seemed to shine more than ever. The brilliance came to an apex with a remarkable performance during one of Ben Lee's oldies, Nothing Much Happens, from the album Breathing Tornadoes. From there on, it was back to thumb twiddling for the orchestra till the end of the concert.

Other than a fading orchestra, a major attempt to spoil Ben Lee's gig were the chinese lamps that were placed somewhat at random on the lighting towers siding the stage, and, more than that, the images somebody insisted to show on top of WASO's stage. Nowadays, when we are so used to spectacular effects in a concert, be it rock, pop, jazz or classical, it's always better not to use anything than to project on stage something as tacky as popping/dancing flowers, strings of red beating hearts or an image that resembles the Star Wars opening or a beaten computer screen saver. Ben Lee's songs are mostly about love and life, we know it's hard to put up a show about these without wearing yourself out in clichés, but the job is even harder when you are singing with all these “special effects” appearing on the highest point on stage. But thanks to Ben Lee's entertaining lead and the wonderful ambience provided by nature, the concert came to an end as one of those nice nights out in the park.

Ben Lee with
West Australian Symphonic Orchestra (WASO)

Venue: Pioneer Women's Memorial | Kings Park & Botanic Garden (gates open 5pm)
Date/Time: 8pm, Saturday 1 March
Tickets: Adults $65 | Students/ Under 30yrs/ Groups 10+ $60 each
Bookings: WASO 9326 0000 | | BOCS 9484 1133 |

With thanks to Henrique Alves

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