When the Asphalt Orchestra first formed in 2009, the idea was to bring experimental music to the streets.
The New York City-based 12-piece combines three saxophones, two trumpets, two trombones, one sousaphone, one piccolo and three percussionists. And when it would start playing, it would combine elaborate choreography with its own intricate arrangements of songs by artists like Frank Zappa and rock bands like The Pixies.
Though the Asphalt Orchestra still enjoys playing outdoors, it’s created a theater show to bring indoors. The group will perform a free show at the Capitol Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Piccolo player Jessica Schmitz said bringing the show inside has had its pros and cons. While she misses the interactivity with the audience that an outdoor show encourages, playing in a theater makes for much better sound quality. Hooking up 12 instruments to microphones and amplifiers, she said, makes it easier to concentrate on the complexities of the performance rather than the volume of each band member.
“Acoustically, it’s easier to be inside in a theater,” Schmitz said. “Outside, the sound goes everywhere. We enjoy it because we don’t have to blast as much.”
When the band visits Concord, it will be performing “Unpack the Elephant,” a show it debuted in 2011 that was specifically designed to perform indoors. Schmitz said this performance has become a fast favorite because it combines classic Asphalt Orchestra arrangements, including some Zappa, Bjork and David Byrne tunes, and some original pieces written by multiple band members.
While audience members with a keen ear for music will be impressed by the band’s ability to play these arrangements entirely from memory, the energetic choreography makes the show a visual spectacle as well. Schmitz said one of the biggest challenges the Asphalt Orchestra faces is gathering all 12 members together to rehearse and fine tune all of the elements each show brings. But she said the chemistry the band members share makes an eight-hour practice feel like a fun get-together with friends.
“Everyone is really close, so that makes it that much more probable that we could put these crazy things together,” Schmitz said. “There are no divas or anything, so it makes rehearsals really fun.”
Schmitz said the members’ musical interests are varied. Now that many of the band members have taken a shot at writing arrangements, she said, it’s fascinating to hear the way different members envision a final product.
Schmitz said she is personally more into classical music and small chamber ensembles, but the orchestra has members who prefer jazz and others who prefer indie rock. Schmitz said she is excited to see all of the different directions the Asphalt Orchestra can go.
“As musicians, like with any creative person, we’re always in a state of reinventing ourselves,” she said.