Written and Photographed By Julie Shaw
When I cover a show by artists I have never seen live before, I do my best to not walk in with any kind of expectations. This allows me to experience the show with fresh eyes. Walking into The Piano Guys’ show at The Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to experience. Was I going to sit in silence as I enjoyed masterfully played music, as one would expect from such a concert? Would I fall asleep if not fully caffeinated? Would I even know what songs they are playing, given that there are no vocals to accompany them?
Before the night had even began, before the lights even went out, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” came on over the sound system, and almost every single member of the audience sang along. This was obviously the opening for the show, as the sound guys cut the song every time the “bah bah bah” part approached, leaving only the voices of the audience echoing through the theater. I’m not saying that I was unable to stop myself from joining in, but I was completely unable to stop myself from joining in.
The Piano Guys completely surprised me by putting on a show that one would not expect from one man, John Schmidt, on a piano and one man, Steven Sharp Nelson, on 3 of his 39 cellos. They opened with a mashup of The Avengers and Pirates of the Caribbean theme songs. As they played the respective portion of the medley, behind them projected video clips with The Piano Guys’ faces superimposed over Tony Stark, Clint Barton, Jack Sparrow, and Will Turner. The first song ended with the Marvel logo that plays before all MCU projects, but with The Piano Guys, instead of The Avengers, flashing in the letters. This was the perfect way to introduce the audience to the kind of humor and lightheartedness we would experience over the next two hours.
As the night went on, it was clear that the theme of the night was light razzing, “Dad Jokes,” and fun story telling. The setlist covered everything from Bach, to originals, to theme songs from children’s movies, to simple piano exercises played with Schimdt’s feet. One of the first stories that Schmidt and Nelson told that night was of how they got the name “Piano Guys.” A simple, and sweet story about Paul Anderson, one of their current producers, wanted a new way of selling pianos from his store in St. George, Utah, through YouTube, which was not a common practice at that time. Schmidt would practice in Anderson’s store before gigs, so Anderson asked to film him to upload to Anderson’s YouTube channel, The Piano Guys. They brought in Nelson, and eventually producer Al Van Der Beek, and together they created over 80 videos with over 2.5 billion views, 10 million followers, 12 albums, and they still haven’t sold a single piano. From the beginning, Anderson had a vision of putting The Piano Guys in the most unusual places that one would not expect to find a piano and a cello, like on every single Wonder of the World, including their latest accomplishment of playing of The Great Wall Of China. Portions of the video they shot on The Great Wall of China projected in the background as they played “Kung Fu Panda: Cellos Ascent”.
One of the most recognizable songs that The Piano Guys played this night was Guns N Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.This was the first song I had ever heard The Piano Guys play. One of the most famous, and difficult songs played this night by Nelson, was Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major”, otherwise known as “The Cello Song.”
At one point, Schmidt started throwing shirts into the audience, and then decided that before he left us, he would do a magic trick of tossing an invisible ball into a plastic bag. He even invited a child in the front to participate. Shmidt asked Nelson to play a game: give cello sound effects to the video clips playing on the screen behind them. These clips included seagulls flying, a motorcycle whizzing by, a European ambulance, and a pig swimming in the ocean-to which Nelson simply played the theme to Jaws.
This show was not simply a man with a piano and a man with a cello. This show gave us everything we could have wanted. Laughter, beautiful music, and connection with the artists.