(Prederick attended Video Games Live and wrote this report. Enjoy! - Shawn)
On April 26th, Video Games Live made its first appearance in New York City. The brainchild of composer Tommy Tallarico, the show promises to bring music from various video games to life with a live orchestra and crowd participation. Given my track record of being an enormous nerd for video game music, it seemed only fitting to attend.
Video Games Live is predicated on the belief that the music in video games is worthy of recognition for its musical achievement. The notion may not make much weight in the mainstream, but to the crowd on attendance that night, it was true.
Tallarico has set up Video Games Live as a very interactive experience, with a large screen behind the orchestra showing gameplay clips from pre-selected titles, generally marquee titles past and present. As opposed to the experience at most orchestral concerts, Tallarico openly encourages the crowd to cheer and clap throughout the performance.
To promote the concept of audience participation, randomly selected individuals were invited on stage to enact arcade classics as the orchestra provided the accompanying music in real time. Admittedly, the two titles selected for the orchestra weren't all that difficult (Frogger and Space Invaders). In the case of the latter game, the selected contestant was outfitted with a T-Shirt with the player's ship on the back. The contestant would be able to run back and forth across the stage and have his movements represented on the screen. A roughly 50-year old man named Felix was selected as humanity's last hope against the Space Invaders. His introduction was a bit rough, admitting that he "knew nothing" about video games to a cacophony of boos. Still, he proved himself to be an entertaining, but admirable, failure.
The song selection is largely designed to make sure noone in the crowd will feel left out and still please the hardcore, both old and new. That night's selection was quite expansive, featuring medleys with music from Outrun, Sonic the Hedgehog, and the Super Mario series. The concert spends a fair amount of time reveling in yesteryear, although there are nods to more recent titles, such as God of War, Civilization IV and Call of Duty.
In the latter's case, a somewhat odd decision was made as far as the background video goes. A very somber video compilation from The History Channel depicted the horrors of World War II, which certainly fit the music but didn't seem to fit with the overall mood of the evening. Likewise, music from Kingdom Hearts was played with scenes from Disney's immense catalog of animated films. The familiar scenes were nice but omitted any actual gameplay footage, disappointing some of the crowd. Kingdom Hearts is loved as much for Square's characters as for Disney's, and omitting the former from the proceedings altogether did make the experience feel like it was missing something.
Of course, Final Fantasy makes an appearance, with piano virtuoso Martin Leung playing a medley of songs from the series history, albeit mostly focusing on Final Fantasy VII. Since the aim of the concert is broad accessibility, it was only logical that they heavily feature the JRPG that introduced a generation to the genre and was a landmark in the franchise.
It is one thing to hear much of this music in-game, but hearing it brought to life by a skilled orchestra gives it a new depth and sensation. Surely, players of the Final Fantasy VII have heard "One Winged Angel" numerous times already, but that night the crowd favorite was showcased in a new light. The theme to Metal Gear Solid never seemed quite as entertaining until that night, when hearing it live nearly sold me on Guns of the Patriots. The only song I remember being just a yard too far for Tallarico and the Orchestra was the theme to Halo II. The original track featured some admirable guitar work courtesy of rock legend Steve Vai. Tallarico, understandably, couldn't quite capture Vai's virtuoso technique.
Video Games Live is meant to be a celebration of the music from video games. That which we remember, enjoy and in some cases, connect to emotionally. If the attendance that night was any indication (seats were sold out a month in advance), Tallarico understands his audience, understands what he's providing, and does it in a way that entertains and shows some of the music in a new light. From a rocky start, the show seems to be growing into a resounding success.