With Katy Perry headlining the Hollywood Bowl, there was really only one way that Sunday night’s all-star concert could end, and that was with the pop singer belting her hit “Firework” as Roman candles filled the sky over L.A.’s most iconic venue.
And indeed that spectacle seemed, at least for a minute, to conclude Sunday’s show, which served as the grand finale of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s daylong “Celebrate LA!” event marking the start of the organization’s 100th season.
But then LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel, who’d conducted the orchestra as it accompanied Perry, grabbed the microphone and revealed a twist: John Williams was in the house.
Minutes later, the famed movie composer was leading the LA Phil through a rousing rendition of his classic “Star Wars” theme.
The surprise ending had an only-in-L.A. vibe that suited “Celebrate LA!,” which brought together hundreds of musicians and other performers for a kind of cultural parade that snaked through various neighborhoods between downtown, where the festivities kicked off outside Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Bowl.
But Williams’ appearance wasn’t the only unexpected thing about Sunday’s closing concert. Just as remarkable was that Perry, Kali Uchis and Herbie Hancock each made a real effort to adapt their styles to the specifics of the show — a rarity for the type of gig into which well-known pop and jazz acts are often shoehorned merely to attract folks with little interest in classical music.
Perry, especially, was up for an adventure, perhaps because she’s been scrambling for inspiration since her 2017 album, “Witness,” flopped.
Here she came on like a batty Broadway diva in a highly theatrical take on Queen’s “Bicycle Race,” which she dedicated to everyone who’d taken part in the day’s CicLAvia event that ran in conjunction with “Celebrate LA!”
And with clever arrangements by David Campbell — think sawing strings and rumbling timpani — she radically remade “Roar” and “Firework” as something close to big-band art songs; the latter, in particular, diverged from her record’s cartoon optimism for a more nuanced sound that might’ve pleased another great SoCal eccentric, Van Dyke Parks. (If Perry is looking for a show-biz reset along the lines of her frenemy Lady Gaga’s “A Star Is Born,” this could be an intriguing one.)
Kali Uchis, the young L.A.-based Colombian American singer with an excellent debut in this year’s “Isolation,” took advantage of the orchestra as well. Wearing a silky baby-blue gown and matching stole, she did her tunes “Flight 22” and “After the Storm” as slinky midcentury torch songs, lush with film-score strings.
And like Perry, though with a somewhat shakier voice, she performed a cleverly chosen cover: “La-La Means I Love You,” the old-school R&B hit by the Delfonics that’s been sampled many times by artists from the hip-hop scene in which Uchis often works.
Hancock also had hip-hop on his mind. The jazz great performed a long version of his early-’80s “Rockit” with a killer band that included keyboardist Terrace Martin, known for his work on records by YG and Kendrick Lamar, and Grand Mixer DXT, the veteran turntablist who helped “Rockit” become an unlikely smash on MTV.
Rather than play it straight, though, Hancock kept letting the orchestra push his signature tune in new directions, as when the brass players pounced on the melodic theme with a trashy grandeur that suggested James Bond.
“You’re part of the band,” Hancock told Dudamel after they finished the song, and you understood how highly he was praising the guy.