Pink Martini is hard to pin down, with its lush sound combining a cocktail aesthetic, classical talent and world beats. Thomas Lauderdale, front man for the Portland, Oregon-based band, pleads simply that they be called anything but ”lounge” music.
”’Lounge’ just makes me a little queasy,” he says. ”A lot of times, the ’50s and ’60s are parodied with a kind of smirk. That sort of cynical humor only goes so far…. [Our sound] is like a 1940s musical crossed with the United Nations.”
Cynicism runs counter to Pink Martini’s roots, in that the band was actually founded as part of a fundraiser countering a homophobic ballot measure in Oregon in the mid 1990s. Lauderdale, who has aspired to be mayor of Portland since his 1992 return from Harvard University, brought the Del Rubio Triplets to town for the fundraiser.
”We had a big bash at the end of the campaign, but we needed an opening act,” says Lauderdale, who hurriedly whipped together his band. ”It was four of us at the beginning. It was really very, very campy. We played the theme from I Dream of Genie and ‘Moon River.”’
Through the years, the band has evolved. Lauderdale, who is gay, has evolved, too. He may actually seem a bit less flamboyant than the Lauderdale of yesteryear who would routinely appear on stage in dresses.
”It’s a lot of work running around in those heels, and we’ve already got one diva onstage,” admits Lauderdale, pointing to the band’s vocalist, China Forbes. ”I wouldn’t want to begin to compete. But if the occasion was just right, I might consider it.”
Do not, however, be fooled into thinking that Lauderdale is just fundraisers, fashion and flash. He’s an accomplished pianist who has played regularly with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.
”I continue to study classical piano with my piano teacher. I don’t want to become Liberace. He stopped practicing and became sort of a joke. He became sloppy.”
Those looking for a show that’s anything but sloppy may want to take a look at Pink Martini when they hit D.C. next week. Promises Lauderdale: ”[Our shows] are romantic and sweeping, and still ridiculously fun.”
Pink Martini performs Thursday, Sept. 21, at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$35. Call 202-994-6800 or visit ticketmaster.com.