Rock musicians often try to replicate the timbre of a cello by playing electric guitars with a bow, but what’s more impressive is how closely a strummed and distorted classical instrument can replicate fuzz-laden axe-riffing worthy of a nod from world-class guitarists.
Czech fusion duo 2Cellos sought escape from the straight-jacket regimentation of their classically-trained backgrounds and found success covering popular tracks with energetic cello-based performances.
Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser appeared in Hong Kong for the first time this month and were warmly welcomed by a full auditorium. The seated audience seemed unsure whether to treat the show as a classical concert – to be enjoyed respectfully and reverentially – or whether to embrace the unbuttoned riot of a pop gig.
A fan in the seat next to us was told off by a steward for filming during the opening songs, but there was nothing to stop the horde that ran to the barrier, phones aloft, when the duo signalled they were amping things up by inviting drummer Dusan Kranjc onstage to give some of the heavier covers a rhythmic backbone.
There are plenty of string ensembles whose repertoires include frilly renditions of pop hits. A cynic might point to 2Cellos’ good looks as reasoning for their stadium-sized success, but it’s clear that their talent, creativity and passion for stagecraft sets them apart from your average wedding function group.
That said, the pair play up to their heartthrob status – Stjepan layers on the cheese, caressing his cello and sending female members of the audience wild. “This song is the most beautiful, the most perfect,” he breathes. “Like you!” a girl roars from the back. Hauser’s eyes glimmer as he smiles. It’s all in the act.
Later, he throws himself to the ground, writhing and thrashing while tackling one of the meatier metal solos. They’ve long dispelled any doubt over their ability to play, but their dexterity and synchronicity is astonishing. Three albums in, and they’ve moved beyond the novelty realm thanks to a dedication to reimagining the songs people love in a playful and fresh way.
The KITEC sound is crystal clear as the instrument shrieks with feedback and reverb as the demented players power through classic rocks songs. Four AC/DC hits feature in the set, while Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Guns ‘n’ Rose, the Rolling Stones and Prodigy all experience a dramatic makeover at the blurry fingertips of Sulic and Hauser.
After a brief overture, Iron Maiden’s The Trooper snarls to life and hits the crowd in the eardrums. The pair alternate between furious riffing and screeching melodies on their most popular cover.
Bows begin to fray as they are swept vigorously across fingerboards and the musicians appear possessed by some evangelical force as their bodies jerk, feet stomping, hair flopping, sweat dripping. Kranjc takes a backseat to the theatrics, but proves his worth with exuberant, full-fat drumming; a look of sheer joy throughout.
Unlike most rock gigs, which go out with a bang, 2Cellos close with Bach’s Air. After tearing through Back in Black, the sudden brake is jarring, but reminds everyone that the classical and rock worlds aren’t so far removed.