Hem and Paul Oakenfold with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall on June 26

A review of Hem and Paul Oakenfold with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall on June 26, 2007

, Editor-in-Chief

In its brief history, the Boston Pops’ “EdgeFest” has quickly become one of the city’s top music highlights of the year. Each show has brought a unique flavor to Symphony Hall and Tuesday night was no different with Brooklyn based country/folkers Hem.

Only two weeks ago, indie rock favorite M Ward jumped ship and left the Pops all alone for the show. However, Hem stepped in to rescue the show despite such little time to prepare. The band was a safe pick for Keith Lockhart and company, making up for their lack of “star power” with experience in using a wide array of instruments. For Hem, it was a career highlight that had members pinching themselves and smiling all night.

Hem’s enchanting set began with the soulful “Lord, Blow Out The Moon Please,” gaining momentum as they flowed into “He Came To Meet Me” and the orchestra subtly began to make their impact.

Lead singer Sally Ellyson, dressed in a beautiful turquoise evening gown, provided angelic vocals throughout the evening with the assistance of backing vocalist Dawn Landes. Ellyson shined brightly on “Pacific Street” and “Hollow.” The Pops added flare with building crescendos to “Carry Me Home” and most especially a stellar rendition of “Sailor.” The orchestra, along with some nifty guitar work by Gary Maurer, brought a much-needed spark to “Stupid Mouth Shut” after a lackluster “My Father’s Waltz.”

Hem were in visibly good spirits. At one point pianist Dan Messe thanked the crowd for attending the “most typical of Hem gigs,” while Ellyson quipped, “Can we do that with an orchestra?” after an out-of-tune Maurer forced a second take at the start of “Reservoir.”

Hem returned for an encore, but with nothing ready for the Pops, the quartet (with four extra touring members) went back in their catalog to deliver “When I Was Drinking.” It was the only song not backed by the full orchestra, leaving Messe to state, “this is like a capital crime.”

Hem and the Pops combined for an entertaining and enchanting evening, but it was internationally renowned DJ Paul Oakenfold who stole the show in the opening set. Along with drummer Andreas Brobjer and the full Boston Pops orchestra, they delivered the world premiere of their symphonic remix of Felix Brenner’s “Travelacoustica.” Brenner, a 26-year old Hollywood native and former tour manager of The Shins, is one of the top young prospects in orchestral composing.

At the start of the song Oakenfold looked like a crazed scientist in his massive DJ booth, but was seemingly only delivering barely audible backing beats. However, it all built up to a delightfully unique moment as the Pops froze on stage and Oakenfold worked his magic. The hall filled with strobe lights as Oakenfold looped back in portions of the Pops and Brobier added some crunch with his drum kit. It was different, certainly odd, but utterly cool and something that defined what the “EdgeFest” series is all about.

The Boston Pops opened the show with selections from West Side Story and 26-year Providence native Nico Muhly’s “Wish You Were Here.”

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