The Plastic Acid Orchestra teams up with Maria in the Shower for some musical magic
The double bill booked into the Vogue Theatre this weekend isn’t only an innovative pairing of a fast-rising folk-pop quartet and a shadowy underground orchestra—it’s also an attempt to overthrow the natural order of things.
Look at it this way: bands generally start out small, get bigger, and then, sometime after they get really big, team up with a symphony orchestra for a grandiose reworking of their earlier catalogue. And then, it seems, they die. Like flowers on a desert succulent, the orchestral-rock move is almost always a sign of impending rot.
Not this time, though. When the four acoustic musicians of Maria in the Shower team up with the 45 members of the Plastic Acid Orchestra, their collaboration will represent the first flowering of a concept that PAO conductor and cellist Bryan Deans hopes will prove evergreen: adding the elegance of symphonic winds and strings to young bands that are still bursting with creative juices.
It’s not that Deans and his big-band mates haven’t spent their time with the classics. Check their YouTube footage for proof, and you’ll see that in their nightclub days they were known to perform sweeping versions of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, in addition to a hot arrangement of longhair favourite Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
“We were in the bars before, with an underground-orchestra kind of feel,” Deans explains. “And that was pretty exciting, because people could cheer or speak out whenever they wanted to. I wanted to get away from the stiffness of the classical-orchestra concept as much as possible.”
Deans is speaking to the Straight during his lunch break: when he’s not wrangling a few dozen performers into shape, he teaches music at St. John’s School, a private facility in Kitsilano. Judging by how energetic he sounds on the phone, he must be an inspiring teacher—and he’s certainly a compelling talker, having already convinced the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians to bend the rules for this weekend’s show. When the Plastic Acid Orchestra takes to the stage it will be made up of card-carrying union players; semipro musicians, some drawn from the West Coast Symphony; and the best of Deans’s students. It’s an innovative and perhaps even unprecedented plan, but it’s in keeping with his drive to democratize symphonic music.
Fittingly, Deans’s résumé is a mix of high-art credentials and street-level experience. His first shows weren’t at the Orpheum or the Chan Centre, but on Granville Island, where he’d busk with his violin-playing sister (and fellow PAO member) Marissa. But he got serious when, after apprenticing with the late Wallace Leung, he headed to the University of Victoria to study with the Hungarian-born Janos Sandor.
“He passed away during my time at UVic, but he was definitely an amazing teacher, and he influenced a lot of us to conduct,” Deans says. “And he went ‘Get your own group! Do your own thing! Go for these big symphonic things.’ ”
Around the same time, Maria in the Shower’s Martin Reisle was also getting serious about music—both as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and as a composition student at UBC. When he and Deans first performed together, in Reisle’s hometown of Invermere, they quickly discovered that they were kindred spirits.
“Martin asked me to play a piece called ‘Train’, which involved cello, a chain, and a hammer,” says Deans, who was in the Kootenays to pursue his other passion: piloting gliders. “I had a great time.”
“Train” may be reprised at the Vogue. Definitely in the cards are the Plastic Acid Orchestra arrangement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor (“a louder, thicker brass piece”, says Deans) some PAO originals, a new orchestral work from Reisle, and several songs featuring Maria in the Shower. And it’s not going to be a case of the PAO strings laying down soft string pads for a few ballads: both band and orchestra will be fully engaged.
“In fact, the orchestra’s taking the lead,” Deans notes. “Usually, the orchestra takes the back seat, but here the orchestral parts are written in such a way that it’s forefront music. So a lot of these things are brand-new ideas: new concepts of writing, with some improv, too. It’s 21st-century, leading-edge composing.”
Add Maria in the Shower’s own vocal and instrumental exuberance, plus fire-spinning, and you’ve got the recipe for quite a trippy show. So what’s that band name all about?
Apparently, the Plastic Acid Orchestra tag was coined by a filmmaker friend of Deans’s, and it stuck. “We don’t want to be showcasing acid, especially as I’m a schoolteacher,” says the cellist and conductor. “But, basically, any acid is a mixture of different elements, much like the band. It’s diverse, it’s a mixture, and it’s an unforgettable new sound.”
The Plastic Acid Orchestra and Maria in the Shower play the Vogue Theatre on Saturday (February 25).