When The Piano Guys took the stage in a burst of billowing smoke with an electrifying performance of Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars,” they set the tone for the rest of the evening: A night of magical and heartfelt music accompanied by the piano and cello duo’s fun banter. Their show at Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night, the center’s first show of the season, was the group’s fourth time at the university’s theater.
“Seeing The Piano Guys was an incredible experience from start to finish that invoked all types of emotions, from laughter to sentiment,” Shreya Sreenivas, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said. “Seeing them live invoked a thrill that left me at the edge of my seat throughout the night.”
Pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson carried on the energizing momentum from their first song to play one of their most well-known renditions, a mash-up of Frozen’s “Let It Go” and Vivaldi’s “Winter.” Throughout the show, the back screen sometimes showed the song’s accompanying music video along with lively laser lights.
“It was entertaining in more ways than one,” Hope Dymond, a third-semester environmental engineering major, said. “[Beyond] the music, their banter was wholesome and funnier than Pete Davidson.”
The duo showcased a wholesome repartee between songs while discussing inspiration for certain arrangements and videos, their instruments and their journey. Self-proclaimed “dorky dads” was the correct description for Nelson and Schmidt’s back and forth as Nelson poked fun at Schmidt’s dancing skills and Schmidt commented on Nelson’s misfortune as a cello player.
“It’s a little awkward that Steve is called a piano guy but plays the cello,” Schmidt said.
“I feel like false advertising,” Nelson said in response.
The two had fun showing off their familiarity with their instruments, as Schmidt demonstrated his ability to play just as skillfully with his hands behind his back, as well as with his foot. Nelson introduced his three cellos on stage: A traditional 100-year old Italian cello, a French carbon fiber cello and a Chinese electric cello, which all create unique sound textures. In the group’s original “All of Me,” Nelson showcased the use of beating on his cello to create a unique sound, which he uses throughout many of the songs. He also used a kick drum, looper and the different cellos to produce the innovative parts of the songs live. They were also skilled improvisers, as seen with their improvised arrangement of U2’s “With or Without You.”
“We just love to roast each other,” Nelson said. “It’s like two brothers on stage. We’ve been performing together for 20 years now, and I just love him.”
The Piano Guys played songs that featured other artists, such as “Peponi,” an African twist on Coldplay’s “Paradise” with singer Alex Boye and “Someone You Loved” with dance duo Charity and Andres from World of Dance. Musicians from Glastonbury’s Chamber Orchestra took the stage for “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets.”
The duo’s authenticity and sincerity came through in their discussion of their family and personal lives, often referencing their children as inspiration for certain songs they played that night, such as “Kung Fu Panda: Cello Ascends” and The Greatest Showman’s “A Million Dreams.” Schmidt dedicated Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” which is the group’s most-watched video on Youtube, to his wife of 28 years. Nelson dedicated the finale, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” mixed with “Amazing Grace,” to the ordinary superheroes of the world, such as his mother, father and his second wife. Nelson’s father had cared for him and his five siblings, Nelson’s mother who had a brain tumor and eventually passed and his second wife, who suffered from cancer and eventually passed as well. The cellist also discussed his life with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and encouraged all instrument players to continue striving towards the soaring feeling of playing music.
“I’ve been a fan of theirs for a very long time,” Jamie Masthay, a third-semester psychology major, said. “It was amazing to see them live. They are very talented and seem like genuinely nice people.”
The crowd’s rousing applause brought Schmidt and Nelson back for an encore that featured the song that started it all: A mashup of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” which was the perfect amount of dramatics and nostalgia to close out the night.
The Piano Guys, which also includes producer Paul Anderson and music producer and songwriter Al van der Beek, originated in southern Utah and rose to Internet — and eventually, international — fame with their covers and mashups of classical and contemporary music posted on Youtube. The group’s videos express as much about the group as their music does, with soaring panoramics of Schmidt and Nelson in nature scenes such as the Great Wall of China and the cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park.
“[It was] a two-hour musical journey that reminds you to take life on with a smile on your face and a groove to your step,” Sruthi Takillapati, a third-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.