From Mancini to Cobain: 2Cellos knows no bounds at Erwin Center

Stjepan Hauser, left, and Luka Sulic of the Croatian-Slovenian duo 2Cellos perform at the Erwin Center on January 18, 2018. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

You get a little bit of everything at a concert by Eastern European duo 2Cellos. Classical instrumentation? Check. A suite of popular movie themes? Check. AC/DC’s greatest hits? Check. Drum solo? Check. Offbeat humor from your hosts? Check.

PHOTOS: 2Cellos at the Erwin Center

Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, both in their early 30s, have been doing this for awhile now, since meeting as teens in a classical training. They’ve developed their own very personable style and charisma, and they’ve learned what works well with an audience, judging from their performance Thursday evening at the Erwin Center.

Sulic set the tone early on by noting that “this is not a classical concert, so you can do anything you want.” That applied to the performers themselves as well, clearly. Hauser, the more animated of the two performers, writhed wildly on the stage floor at one point in the second half of the show, then donned flashing-red devil horns a little later.

Though there was no intermission, the 90-minute concert essentially was divided into two distinct parts. The first nine numbers stressed songs from last year’s “Score,” an album of popular movie and TV themes including “Moon River” (from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), “My Heart Will Go On” (from “Titanic”) and a medley from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Backed by a dozen locally hired musicians for this section (six violinists, two violists and two more cellists, an upright bassist and a keyboardist, plus their touring drummer Dusan Kranjc), the duo stressed the melodic richness of their instruments. Behind them, a video screen showed close-up footage of Sulic and Hauser along with intentionally amateurish illustrated footage that was just similar enough to suggest the associated films without getting them into copyright trouble.

Part two was something completely different, and 2Cellos seemed eager for it to arrive. “Only one more slow song, guys, finally!” Hauser cracked as they neared the transition, at which point the supporting musicians departed and the two principals ripped into Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

The material only got harder from there, with Kranjc rejoining them for an AC/DC core that included “Thunderstruck,” “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black.” Adding in a little Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and Rolling Stones (“Satisfaction”) for good measure, the duo eventually got many in the arena’s seats to head down to the floor and rock out for the last few numbers.

One key that 2Cellos probably figured out early on: If you’re going to get out of the symphony realm and play pop concerts in arenas, the repertoire needs to be almost universally known. That was the link between the two sets: The rock songs were all well-established classics, as were the movie themes.

If that makes 2Cellos a glorified cover band, well, it doesn’t really diminish the simple joy in their performance. And their technical skills as musicians are unassailable: Performing on what were basically single-stick electric cellos with wire frames to indicate the shape of traditional wooden cellos, they frequently impressed with aggressively rhythmic and dynamic bow strokes, especially during an encore segment that drew on Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” (the “Lone Ranger” theme).

For the finale, they struck a sweet balance between the first and second halves of the show, closing with a beautiful rendition of U2’s “With or Without You.” Three decades ago, that Irish band played the same song in this very arena to an Austin audience for the first time. In the end, you’re only as good as your material, and 2Cellos has chosen well.

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