Hundreds came in from the cold on a chilly January night to see myriad musical styles collide on the Hilbert Circle Theatre’s stage. The sellout scene was set immediately, with ISO Happy Hour attendees first enjoying food and drink samples in the lobby and lounges as a DJ played artists ranging from Hot Chip to TLC to Toto. His song selection proved a harbinger of things to come: This was not your grandmother’s ISO event.
The orchestra’s musicians greeted patrons with a straightforward classical piece before guest artists Lily & Madeleine took to the stage, the former strumming acoustic atop a stool with her older sister perched at piano. The low-key duo performed four takes from their eponymous debut album (a Best of Indy winner last month), including standout songs “In the Middle” and “Back to the River.”
Next up, their fellow guest star Tony Styxx, another Indianapolis native, offered verses from his repertoire of thoughtful hip-hop and spoken-word constructs. The 26-year-old Broad Ripple High School grad (nee Ronald A. Craig Jr.) was most convincing on his love-worn track “Sundays/Wedding Vows,” a passionate tribute to a woman that channeled Common’s “The Light” in its pace and tenor.
The ISO’s ensemble-in-residence, Time for Three, moonlighted with both acts preceding it before launching into its tried and true cover of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” a gorgeous dirge of want and loss that drips with emotion all the more in its classical rendition. Bassist Ranaan Meyer took to the mic on a couple occasions, rambling a bit each time but obviously taken by the chance to share the latest about TF3’s next project.
The recently realigned Universal Music Classics (UMC) imprint on the Universal record label scored Time for Three as its first signee back in October. The trio is set to record and release its debut album in 2014 and tour behind it with special guest Joshua Radin, who will also appear on the album.
Meyer and bandmates Nick Kendall and Zach DePue (ISO’s concertmaster) played just one other number to themselves on the evening before the ISO delivered a spirited reading of West Side Story‘s “Mambo.”
Then the night’s true surprise set in when all the performers joined forces to take on Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” Lily & Madeleine sang Rihanna’s hook as Tony Styxx dutifully tore through the rap verses. The choice was inspired, and a fantastic vehicle for the sisters to step outside of their comfort zones musically. Leading the ISO’s string-soaked reinforcements, each of the Time for Three fellows backed the vocalists with a wink in his eye.
Lighting designer Laura Glover, a veteran of many productions from Phoenix Theatre to Dance Kaleidoscope, Indy Men’s Chorus to Indiana Repertory Theatre, deserved stand-alone kudos on this night. The soft hues she bathed her subjects in literally cast them in a most flattering light, and matched the tone of each song exquisitely. Of course her work was most emphatic on “All of the Lights,” otherwise subtly enhancing the show without becoming the show.
The next ISO Happy hour will be on May 15, and any special guests have yet to be announced. That edition, if it proves to be anything like this one, will be well worth anyone’s $25—and the weather will surely be balmier.