I walked in to the theatre right at the end of the costume contest.
The lights were a much more pronounced part of this program than the other game music concerts I've been to. While I was expecting multimedia, like game footage and perhaps interviews with composers, there were aspects, for instance, cute mid-concert videos of spoofs like Sonic vs Pac Man and Frogger vs Grand Theft Auto, a video showing the Top 10 worst Voice Acting moments in Video Games, and some humorous/risqué Worst Video Game Titles, that had not been part of a game music concert I'd attended before. Between the lighting design and the fog machine, the concert has a stronger rock and roll feel than the other three concerts I'd attended. Another example of this was when giant, blowup Pokeballs were tossed into the audience for people to hit around during the final number. (And they let people who ended up with the balls keep them!).
I had just settled into my seat here right before the start of the show and snapped a picture before we had to turn off recording devices.
One of my favorite aspects of the show was the hosting by Tommy Tallarico. What a personality! He acted as MC and occasionally played along on his guitar during certain numbers, perhaps three or four in the night. He had a good rapport with the audience, able to respond very well to comments and also educated us meanwhile, providing a history of the concerts and an explanation of why he created VGL. His goal was to "usher in a new audience to enjoy music at the symphony." The concerts started in 2005 in the Hollywood Bowl with the first ever concert having 11,000 in attendance. Now VGL is the longest running video game symphonic show, with this concert being number 494. I enjoyed his costume changes throughout the show and also noted his wearing an Amico shirt for some Intellivison promotion. So many details were so well done; for instance, the screen before the encores was a continue screen from a video game with a countdown-- genius! The orchestra and choir sounded great, although knowing that VGL uses pre-recorded music to augment the live sound, I did wonder how much of what was heard from the audience was live playing versus a pre-existing mix. Honestly, this was one of my favorite of the game concerts I've been to. What worked so well in some ways was that there could be Mario, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger, Undertale, etc-- a huge variety of music and game styles that a one franchise concert can't encompass. But it wouldn't be fair for me to not mention my critiques, too.
One of the main detractors for me about the show was that occasionally, the metronome track that the orchestra was playing to was audible in the audience. Granted, I was not so many rows back from the front, and I doubt that many people were even aware of this, but it was obvious to me particularly in transitions that went from very loud to suddenly soft. The only other thing I disliked was when TT mocked the classical concert atmosphere, of people shushing each other for making any sound, even opening a cough drop. It's great that he presents an explanation of the expected decorum for this concert as one where audience reaction/interaction is desired, and while I think there's plenty that classical music needs to adjust about their concerts, there's simply nothing gained by putting down another genre. Conductor Emmanuel Fratiani told personal anecdotes about Jason Hayes, to make the point of the composers being alive and relatable, which was great, but again this was held as "unlike classical composers who are all dead." I agree totally with the sentiment and get it, but would prefer if it were presented as: "wouldn't it be great if we could call up Beethoven?-- but we can with video game composers." A small, semantic criticism, but one that's important to me. The only other slight criticism I have is regarding the Kingdom Hearts segment, during which original Disney footage of the characters is shown instead of footage from a Kingdom Hearts game. For me, this just didn't make sense-- I wanted to see the video game footage! And while Tommy explained that this was "his idea, something special that he proposed to Disney," I couldn't help but wonder how much of this brainstormed proposal was out of necessity because the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra probably has the rights to show KH gameplay footage in concert, and square won't give it to Video Games Live. That said, I think the nostalgia factor of this kind of thing wins over the audience and most folks didn't even think about it.
As explained by Tommy Tallarico, VGL has created over 140 segments (in individual greetings after the show, he said 190 segements-- I'd be curious to know which number is more accurate) and because they use social media to allow the audience to choose some of the pieces that are played, "no two VGL concerts are the same." He said there are about 18-19 segments per evening, and this was true for this night, which had 17 pieces including two encores. When you consider that there's a choir and an orchestra, in this case TT said 140 musicians were onstage, that's an impressive night of music making! This particular night is going to be featured in an upcoming Netflix documentary, so I was glad to have been at this event. Maybe I'll have a cameo in the audience sitting there, taking notes for this review. The program for this historic night:
World of Warcraft
Metal Gear Solid
Super Mario Bros
Final Fantasy VII: One Winged Angel
I hung around late into the evening because my former student Andrew Lipian was working with "the Merch" and it took a while to close out the sales. This gave me a good amount of time to meet and chat a bit with both Tommy and Emmanuel and grab a picture with them. Awesome that they're willing to speak to so many who attend!
All in all, Video Games Live was my favorite of the video game concerts I've attended. I think the broad nature of the concert and variety of artistic and musical styles that are possible just makes for a more diverse and interesting program. If you can catch VGL on this year's tour, or in the future, I recommend it whole-heartedly!