Portland Cello Project Tackles Radiohead’s OK Computer

Photo by Tarina Westlund

As anybody who has suffered through a bad Grateful Dead cover band or a butchered rendition of a favorite song can testify, doing justice to a popular band or album or song is not an easy task. At best, the cover will faithfully capture the original’s best qualities while adding a tributary flourish that adds to or advances the spirit of the piece. At worst, the cover comes out a nostalgic caricature or sentimental pantomime; it flops in the most embarrassing and even insulting of ways.

So how do we feel about Portland Cello Project taking on Radiohead’s classic and influential 1997 album OK Computer at the Majestic Theatre on Friday, Sept. 21?

It’s going to rock.

One of the missions of Portland Cello Project is to play music on the cello you wouldn’t normally hear played on the instrument—they’ve covered everyone from Kanye West to Steeler’s Wheel to Pantera. They pride themselves on mixing genres and blurring musical lines and perceptions, and they’re good enough musicians to pull this off.

Still, OK Computer might be their most ambitious cover to date, and not only because of the technical skills within the densely layered sounds, white-noise guitar riffs, and keening vocals, but because it means so much to so many people of a certain generation. This album inspired a generation of alt. rockers, Coldplay and Muse not the least.

But Portland Cello Project is perfect for this album.

The melancholic tone of the cello lends itself to the despondent tone of OK Computer just as the experimental inclinations of OK Computer lends itself to the re-conceptualizing cojones of Portland Cello Project.

But even more importantly, as Portland Cello Project describes it, their stage setup ranges from the very simple (four to six cellos), to the all-out epic (which has included 12 cellos playing with full choirs, winds, horns, and numerous percussion players). The Corvallis show falls into the all-out epic category.

To do justice to OK Computer, Portland Cello Project has enlisted the wind quintet City of Tomorrow—the only wind ensemble for the last 10 years to win the gold medal in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. They’re also bringing in a top-notch new men’s choir led by Stephen Marc Beaudoin, who recorded and toured with Pink Martini. Most of the vocals will come from the choir, though Adam Shearer—from the Portland alt.-folk band WEINLAND will sing the track “Exit Music (For a Film).” And while the album will be performed in its entirety, it will be interspersed with an assortment of contrasting and complementary classical music.

All in all, we’re betting that this complex assemblage of cellos, vocals, and wind ensemble should be able to replicate, in a wholly new and liberating way, the sonic layering and rich textures Radiohead poured into OK Computer.

If not, it’s going to be one hell of a good try.

The Portland Cello Project will deliver their rendition of OK Computer at Corvallis’ Majestic Theatre on Friday, Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. The opening band is Alialujah Choir, a roots-folk music trio consisting of Adam Shearer (WEINLAND), Adam Selzer (Norfolk and Western), and Alia Farah (Tequila).

For more information or to purchase tickets for Portland Cello at the Majestic Theatre, visit http://www.majestic.org/2012/08/31/premium-performance-series-portland-cello-project-2/.


By Nathaniel Brodie