Monday, June 09, 2008

Video Games Live -- Centennial Concert Hall, Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Yeah, I know, I made you wait a little; I'm working hard well into the night on this one. Time to bring the goods!

Thursday night saw the Centennial Concert Hall host Video Games Live; I hadn't realized this until that very day, of course, and Thursday being my day off I had pretty much intended to sleep through to Friday. When my little brother woke me up in the afternoon and asked me if I wanted to go, I ruffled my brow in confusion and went "is that today?"

So we got pretty good tickets, considering we bought them only hours before showtime. The show itself was to start at 8:00 PM, but mysterious 'pre-show festivities' were listed for 5:30; we arrived at around six or so, to about as large a turnout as we had been expecting.

Not too crowded, right? Good time to poke around, see what there is to see. For example:

Slow news day at Global! It was obvious to watch these guys that they didn't want to be here; they could just as easily have been out covering a story about crime, or asking people their thoughts on the Hockey Night in Canada theme, but they drew the short straws that day and sadly shuffled off to document Dorkfest.

"That's right, Bob -- I'm here tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall, surrounded by halfwits and dweebenheimers. One of them, apparently crazed from a sleepless marathon of the video-games, made off with my necktie just moments earlier."

I looked at this for a good few seconds before concluding I had no idea what it was about. So I walked up, grabbed one of its promotional handouts off the table, and gave it the old once-over;

We have a games industry? And a 'game studio incubator'? Really? Best-kept secret indeed, they must have been hiding this stuff pretty well so far. Has anyone out there ever seen anything to this effect before? Because I'm not ruling out the possibility that they might just be making stuff up now.

Future Shop was out in full force as a sponsor, providing a few game stations and a Guitar Hero section; they were also offering a free draw for a PlayStation 3 and handing out five-dollar-off coupons to anyone within arm's reach. I ended up with four or five of them, because they just kept walking over and handing them to me, so I guess I'm all set if I want to save five dollars off of something.

"Do you guys sell sassy, smart-talking robots that say amusing technology-themed one-liners like 'gigabyte me'?" I asked one Future Shop employee.

"That was actually me in the suit in that commercial," he replied.

I filled out a ballot for a potential PS3 and deposited it in the ballot box, figuring why not.

I also dropped a ballot in the free draw for 'A PIECE OF VIDEO GAME HISTORY', albeit a very small piece. A poster or program with a bunch of autographs on it; not really 'valuable', per se, but a cute story starter. I had fun reading the list of luminaries and their accomplishments, if nothing else.

Of note:
-- Tommy Tallarico's byline is specifically way longer than anyone else's, and apparently he's proudest of his Earthworm Jim work. Good for him!
-- what the hell is elijah wood doing there
-- Nolan Bushnell, the original founder of Atari and a man rightfully recognized as a founding father of video games, is nonetheless still credited here for his founding of Chuck E. Cheese. Pong and Atari alone aren't accomplishments enough to brag about at a video game event; get me my giant robot mouse!
-- Dweezil Zappa?
-- Dave Perry, you've had a long and storied career, and you've done a lot of things in your life that you should want to take credit for and establish as yours. But, dude, seriously -- Enter the Matrix is not the title you should bring up if you want to endear yourself to people. I'm just saying.
-- Hey, Michael Giacchino! Awesome!
-- Gary Coleman?

The crowd, around quarter to seven. Definitely more people than before.

I don't know why this photo came out blurry, it wasn't like the bartender was doing a lot of moving around or anything. "Any of you nerds want some booze? Anyone?"

Merch table! Well, of course there's a merch table; it's a concert, after all. Get a load of the ultra-Japanese Mario World shirt, too.

I bought a set of Pac-Man pins and an Earthworm Jim CD, both of which I was briefly surprised by. I was surprised by the Pac-Man pins because the counter girl read the posted prices wrong and gave me five dollars off (big night for five-bucks-off deals), and I was surprised by the CD because about a quarter of the Earthworm Jim album was comprised of OverClocked Remixes.

I suppose it isn't that strange an idea, really; any composer would be flattered to see their work remixed, and any remixer would be flattered to have their remix included on the composer's album. I hadn't considered it until I bought the album, but I guess it makes enough sense. Still, though, they aren't exactly a necessary inclusion; I bought the CD because I like the original music, you know?

Tommy Tallarico - Tangerine (Earthworm Jim Anthology, 2006)
[buy | site | info | myspace]

Yeah, like that. Man, those were the days, huh? Good times.

This wouldn't be the last we heard of OC Remix that night, oddly enough. But we'll get to that.

Hey, Space Invaders! It's weird how much Video Games Live loves Space Invaders, considering the game's 'music' only has four notes. Even the event's logo is from Space Invaders! But, then again, the industry had to start somewhere.

There were a crapload of signatures on either side of the cabinet, various video game music luminaries having scrawled their names (and occasionally their companies or signature games) onto it. Let me see if I can cram the two pictures together--

Yeah, that'll do. That blue button could not be more obvious, could it? You might surmise that it resets the machine -- and since I later walked by the machine and saw them hastily setting it up again, I'd suspect you were on to something. (They were actually running the game off a copy of Taito Legends, which I got a bit of a kick out of. Taito Legends is awesome.)

There was a prize for the high score, I think, but I never actually heard what the prize might have been. No matter; I didn't bother trying for it because A) I was busy taking pictures, B) the score was already set prohibitively high and C) I am no great shakes at Space Invaders, solidly average at best.

My little brother was willing to give it a shot, though!

Yeah! Puttin' away this dreadnaught with a hammer blow! That high score is as good as




Not too shabby! Just over half the high score! Yeah!

My little brother just really likes rocking the thumbs-up, I don't really question it any more.

He insisted on getting a picture with this dude, because we were at a video games concert and this was the one guy who got confused or missed the memo and instead dressed up like an anime character.

Just keep doin' your thing, you crazy funster!

Nothing to add here, really, I've just always liked the chandeliers in the Centennial. They're neat.

The bathrooms are just past the merchandise table and to the right of the coat check, but to use them YOU MUST FIGHT THE MASTER CHIEF

Hypothetically, let's say you're wandering around in a full suit of space armour when a baby casually leans over and smacks you one upside the head. What do you even do in that situation?

Well, obviously nothing. Especially not if you're carrying a Needler.

It's an awesome looking gun, of course, but all it does is fire useless purple anime speedlines around the room -- so the baby would have more than enough time to slap you to death before you could so much as muster any resistance. Shouldn't have pissed that baby off!

The crowd, around 7:30. Half an hour to showtime and pretty well populated; you can see a bit of the floor in there, but I think that was because nobody needed a cappuccino.

7:30 was also the listed gathering time for the advertised costume contest to start, so the entrants gathered around to--

--to eat some souls, if the Link in the middle is any indication. Run for it!

The basketball-jersey dude in the middle there? He is definitely scopin' out that ass. Hey, no shame in it, brother!

It became increasingly clear that the Ulala cosplayer (the one in the pink) was the one who knew what she was doing; you'll notice she poses just so for the cameras, turning her chin this way or that, while other costumed folks chat amongst themselves or mill around.

It also became increasingly clear that the general quality of costume wasn't quite evenly distributed along the line. To wit:

On the far left side of the line you'll note a surprisingly convincing Mario, a complete Master Chief and one of the best SEGA costume jobs you'll ever run into.

On the far right side of the line?

I can't help but appreciate that this man even showed up. What a brazen dude! You go, Cube Guy!

The entrants were paraded through the lobby and to the main stage, which was the cue for we the audience to go find our seats and get ready for the show proper to finally start.

Four finalists were designated by the time they hit the stage; Cube Guy was unfortunately left out, and I'm sure he must have been disappointed. The final four entrants were then narrowed down to two via audience applause, which really is the best way to properly measure anything.

Please note at this time that my brother and I are both very eccentric and both very loud, so we pushed the Ulala girl into the final two almost by ourselves. If you were at the show and you'd wondered who kept chanting "SE-GA! SE-GA! SE-GA!" at various intervals -- yes, that was us, and no, there really were only two of us. We're kind of goofy like that.

The Master Chief entry won, of course; it was an impressive full-armour costume, and the closest competition was a rarely-recognized second-string SEGA character. (I'd like to take this time to strongly recommend that you the reader buy SEGA Superstars Tennis; I recently spent a few weeks refusing to play anything else, and I'm usually a pretty finicky guy.)

But enough preamble! The formalities were dispensed with and the wait was over at last; after a couple of sorta-kinda-relevant YouTube videos were shown, one of which was okay and one of which was relentlessly terrible, the lights dimmed and the orchestra came to life. It was time to get down!

Ha ha, yeah, okay.

Arcade Medley
Metal Gear Solid
God of War
Space Invaders
Civilization IV
Kingdom Hearts
Video Game Pianist
Sonic the Hedgehog

Final Fantasy VII

The opening shot of Pong up there sparked the opening number, a medley number of old arcade classics. The highlight of the medley was OutRun, as you might exp... well, no, that's not actually true. The highlight of the medley was the inclusion of Rastan, because ha ha holy shit nobody in that audience has ever played Rastan in their entire lives. Go Rastan! But the musical highlight of the medley was clearly OutRun; the orchestra could have just played OutRun music for ninety minutes and I would have left feeling that I got my money's worth.

Tommy Tallarico, best known for composing the score to Earthworm Jim and for being an annoying human being who does video game reviews on television, is also one of the co-creators of Video Games Live; he served as the master of ceremonies for the evening, and would contribute guitar work for the last few pieces. We will get to the part about the guitar later (oh, boy, will we ever); know for now that he means well but is kind of an aggravating dude most of the time. We the audience were encouraged to cheer loudly and openly whenever we saw or heard something we really liked, so that was nice.

The rendition of the Metal Gear Solid main theme was well rendered, and the accompanying video footage of the series' four games indeed started the trend of the crowd cheering when they recognized or really liked something onscreen. (The crowd popped huge for Psycho Mantis and was completely silent for Vulcan Raven, which was kind of goofy.) The highlight of the piece was Tommy Tallarico crawling across the stage inside a box, and I'm glad that a lot of my readers follow video games or that sentence would look completely ridiculous.

As for the God of War piece, well, across the entire God of War series I've played maybe an hour total; I keep meaning to play the games, I just never get around to them. Oh, well! One of these days. The music is about what you'd expect, all mythological and thundering and angry, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra handled the piece well. David Jaffe, the game's creator, introduced the piece with a taped greeting and just wouldn't stop rambling -- but once it got going, it was perfectly acceptable entertainment.

It was at this point in the evening that they brought a member of the audience onstage for one of the show's selling points, an interactive live-action game of big-screen Space Invaders; the idea is that the orchestra plays along to the game's movements, the player has two minutes to clear the first level as the game tracks his or her movements, and a wonderful prize awaits the player if he or she succeeds. The concept is a very cool idea, and I'm sure that they've run it before somewhere else without a hitch, but on this particular night the interactive aspect of the show was a profound and multifaceted trainwreck.

Tallarico was tasked with picking out an audience member, and he chose a noticeably overweight eleven-year-old boy; the game tracks the player's movement through a t-shirt with motion sensors in it and a Space Invaders ship on the back. Between Tallarico and the boy, the two of them couldn't quite wrap their brains around getting the t-shirt on; it was initially put on the wrong way, then sort of tangled up, and it took a moment or two before they got everything straightened up.

To be fair, t-shirts are pretty tricky. And they don't come with instructions or anything on them, either! You can't expect people to just automatically know how a shirt works.

The garment finally secured, Tallarico flourished to the screen and announced that the two-minute timer would now be put up; no timer appeared, and after a couple more prompts he started asking around for a stopwatch. The timer did eventually get put up, or at least they said it was; we never actually saw it from where they were sitting, but it was stated that the timer did very faintly get up there.

The goal was to complete the first stage of Space Invaders within a time limit of two minutes; the boy cleared maybe a third of the stage and then got a Game Over before the two minutes expired. This wasn't necessarily all his fault; he'd obviously never played Space Invaders before in his life, and I guess nobody told him that you can keep hitting the fire button to keep shooting. So he would shoot one bullet every five seconds, hide halfway behind a shield, come out to fire a second shot, and get killed.

The prize up for grabs was a $2500 Katana tabletop arcade something thingamajig, I'm not exactly sure. It wasn't described particularly well, except for the price point and the idea that it had a thousand or so arcade games in it. Kind of a moot point, because the boy definitely didn't win it. But he got something just as good! His consolation prize was a Future Shop gift certificate for maybe fifty bucks, and -- this was specifically mentioned and displayed by Tallarico as though it was a really swell product -- "a CD collection of the first five hundred OverClocked Remixes".

It takes a few steps to fully explain why this prize is so funny. First off, the first five hundred OC Remixes are quite publicly available for free; in our modern age of widespread technological savvy and high-speed internet connections, you can legally download the whole package within a few hours. Second off, a lot of these songs are ones you wouldn't download individually in the first place; these are from the very early days of the concept, and a great many of the first five hundred OC Remixes are emphatically the worst ones. Third off, the only way they could fit five hundred of them things onto one CD is by burning a data disc, and data discs specifically won't play in many (if not most) conventional CD players. So the standout prize this boy received for his public humiliation in front of his peers was a mostly inoperable slice of plastic that, if generously appraised, can be valued at one dollar and twenty five cents -- and that's for the physical media used, not for the (free) content on it.

I hope he at least buys something nice from Future Shop, the poor kid.

Next after that debacle, to the surprise of all, was a MYST medley. A what? It just so happens that the conductor (and other co-founder) of Video Games Live, Jack Wall, composed the music for MYST III and MYST IV -- so there was one person in the whole building who cared about the MYST series, and it was the guy holding the baton.

(Side note: Barry Bonds Enters the World of MYST should be considered required reading, and I'll wait here while you go read through it. Let me know when you're done.)

It was a very well-arranged medley with a very well-produced video montage, but unsurprisingly the crowd mostly sat on their hands for it. I appreciated it, but then again, I was also right indignant because the medley left out Peter Gabriel's contributions to MYST IV and Uru: Ages Beyond MYST.

In particular:

Peter Gabriel - Burn You Up, Burn You Down (Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, 2003 / Hit, 2003)
[buy album | artist site | game site | artist info | game info]

Jerks! Ah, well.

Keeping in the theme of point-and-click games that virtually nobody in the audience even acknowledged, the next piece was a nice Civilization IV tribute; it featured some nice chanting from the choir and had a nifty Lion King vibe, but again you could almost hear it running headlong into a wall of apathy. And gameplay footage would have been understandably underwhelming, so the video accompaniment involved a lot of landmarks appearing in pencil-sketch format and then being fleshed out by the graphics engine. It came off like a tech demo, truthfully. But a nice tech demo.

The Metroid segment was added by popular demand, Tallarico told us. Apparently not that popular a demand, since it ostensibly took three years' worth of emails and message board comments to earn it -- but the audience here certainly seemed glad to have it, and it was received well. My favourite part of the piece was that the video package waited until halfway through the song and then started throwing in clips of Metroid Pinball, which definitely got a laugh out of me.

The first set concluded with a Zelda medley, which had no business being as low on the card as it was; this was one of the better arrangements all night, a strong ending to the first set with enough variation and video shenanigans to keep everybody guessing and entertained. I felt kind of bad when nobody cheered the Majora's Mask footage; my brother and I popped huge for Wind Waker, and the rest of the audience cheered as one for Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, but amidst all this was some lonely footage of Link popping on masks that elicited a sudden screeching silence. It wasn't that bad, you guys!

Now, seating capacity for the Centennial is just over 2300, and there only were a few rows left empty here and there; we'll say there were, oh, about two thousand people in attendance that night. So when the intermission was announcedand Tallarico added that the Future Shop booth was having a draw for a PS3 -- guess what happened?

Yeah, huh. Glad I'd filled out that ballot earlier! Saved me some time.

The hell if I was walking into all that if I didn't have to, so I went back to my seat and waited for the second set. Unfortunately, and little did I know, the second set would be when the wheels started to come off the whole thing.

While the orchestra filed back in, the video screen was kept active with a long collection of clips from all kinds of games; it was set to Weezer's 'Perfect Situation' for reasons that nobody could understand. This rapid-fire stream of quick footage shots actually ended up being one of the more enjoyable parts of the whole show, as people would take turns cheering encouragement when something they loved decades ago appeared suddenly and then disappeared again.

As you might expect, my brother and I were making most of the noise for a lot of these choices; as mentioned earlier, we're dudes whose tastes don't necessarily jive with everyone else's. The majority of the crowd watched the montage silently, and the only widespread cheers were for Super Mario RPG and -- strangely enough -- Donkey Kong Country. In the meantime, the two of us were the lone voices shouting out approval for the crap nobody else cared about; cheers of "YEAH COMIX ZONE" and "R.C. PRO-AM~!" rang unchallenged through the hall, and one girl in another row turned to look at me in astonishment when I applauded for Ecco the Dolphin. "That dolphin sure can jump!"

The second set opened with an interactive live-action game of big-screen orchestrated Frogger, I guess because things hadn't gone badly enough with this idea the first time around. The faint or invisible timer was put up once more and audience members were canvassed; to make a point, Tallarico randomly pulled two girls out of the audience this time around.

"Who here is a girl gamer? Yeah! And they said girls can't play video games! Let's show 'em how it's done!"

And then, as if to mock him, the two girls immediately displayed that they can't play video games. Neither participant got enough frogs across the screen to complete the stage; the two participants combined didn't advance enough frogs to clear the first stage. Space Invaders, I can kind of see somebody getting confused. You might not figure out immediately that you can shoot one bullet as soon as the last one disappears, or that you can hide behind the shields to regain your composure, or that the best starting strategy is to clear the columns on each end. But Frogger? Seriously? Is this an elaborate prank? Frogger doesn't even have buttons! The timing patterns are painfully obvious, the controls only extend to moving in four directions, and you can beat the entire stage without ever needing to move down or right! IT'S FROGGER

The second player beat the first handily, with something like 2700 points to her opponent's 950. The winner received a Future Shop gift certificate and (ha!) a CD of the first five hundred OC Remixes; the loser received the home game of Frogger. Everyone had a good laugh.

Next on the docket was the theme from Kingdom Hearts, but something must have gone horribly awry along the way; the first warning sign should have been when Tallarico grabbed the mic and went "Who here tonight likes Disney?" After getting the crowd to chant the name of the series, a game series best known for combining Disney characters and Squaresoft game characters in the same universe, Tallarico introduced the video package as... a collection of clips from the Disney movies that the characters came from.

It was, I don't know, okay. I guess. At this point the Video Games Live show had a tenuous connection to video games at best; if I want an orchestra to accompany old cartoon clips, I can just grab tickets for the upcoming Bugs on Broadway show. And I might! Warner was always better than Disney anyway. YEAH YOU HEARD ME

Following the not-Kingdom Hearts segment was the show's featured special guest, Martin Leung, better known as 'the Video Game Pianist' or 'The Blindfolded Pianist'; he rose to fame by being the guy on the internet who (wait for it) plays video game songs on the piano while (wait for it) blindfolded. Tommy Tallarico, not terribly helpful at this point, played up how big a deal it was that this dude plays blindfolded ("Fourty million pageviews!") -- and then out came Martin Leung, the Blindfolded Pianist, very specifically not wearing a blindfold. Just that kind of a night, I guess.

His selection this night was a Final Fantasy medley, and a bizarre one at that; he must be a particularly big fan of Final Fantasy VIII, because he actually launched into its main theme twice during the middle third of the piece. That is a pretty bizarre decision to make in a medley, and I say this as a guy that has heard a lot of medleys. This aside, of course, the performance was magnificent; I wouldn't have minded more variety, but damned if the Video Game Pianist isn't really good at what he does.

My highlight of the second set, unquestionably, was the Sonic the Hedgehog medley. ("SE-GA! SE-GA!" It's not something you ever hear any more, let alone have an opportunity to chant. Which is precisely why it must be done.) This was by far the best use of the orchestra-and-video-screen format that I'd seen yet; the medley drew from an appreciable variety of sources literally spanning systems and decades and eras, where most other pieces stuck to two or three songs, and likewise the video montage went crazy throwing in scenes from games that even SEGA rarely acknowledges these days.

If you were at the show you'll pardon me if you heard me marking out like crazy during this segment, and I don't doubt for a second that you could hear me perfectly fine. They were playing Sonic Spinball! And Sonic 3D Blast! I was cheering solidly throughout the majority of the piece, and then I cracked up laughing when the footage switched to the 3D era. The screen turned on a dime from oldschool Sonic action (Sonic running really fast, Sonic hitting something and losing all his rings, Sonic running really fast again) to an expensive CGI sequence of Sonic throwing himself out of an airplane on a wakeboard and then spinning in place for no reason as he plummeted towards a vast cityscape below. I mean, what the hell. The medley ended at Sonic Heroes, probably out of mercy if nothing else, and from here on out the show basically proceeded without me.

I'll be honest with you; I have never been anything but awful at real-time strategy games, and I could not give two hoots about Warcraft. To my surprise, the rest of the audience reacted pretty mildly as well -- except for one lone guy in maybe the tenth or eleventh row, who leapt to his feet and applauded the selection vigourously even before the music actually started. I'm glad that guy liked it. I'm told the music performed was the World of Warcraft theme, but of course I had no idea; it sounded like Soul Calibur music, and for all I know it might have been. Interestingly, they never once showed any gameplay footage; I guess it is really hard to make point-and-click footage alluring, so the video montage was a series of clips from the games' opening videos. Some Lord of the Rings-looking army scenes broke out, and then a bear chased a dwarf in the snow or something, so I really had no idea what was going on. It was alright, though.

I mentioned earlier that I found the second half of the concert decidedly less interesting than the first, and granted that this is partially due to my declining interest in the chosen material. But the crux of the problem, once I gave it some thought, was less with the source material and more with the arrangements; as the show went on, the arrangements became noticeably lazier.

I bring this up because the next selection was the Super Mario Brothers series. Have you heard the Orchestral Game Concert symphony arrangement of the Mario theme before?

Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra - Super Mario Brothers (Super Mario Brothers) (Game Music Concert: The Best Selection, 1991)
[info | review | it's eighty bucks on ebay]

They played this exact arrangement. Same woodblock hit on beat one and everything, I'm not even kidding. It was pretty disappointing, considering the quality of the other medleys to that point; you could tell with the previous arrangements that you were hearing something fresh, lovingly drawn from many historical sources and then arranged with great care and effort into a new approach to the material.

The Mario arrangement here went main theme, water theme, Bowser theme, main theme, pause before ending, done. Same as it ever was; same as it ever was. Not to say it wasn't good -- it was! The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra did a great job all night, and the best you can ask of an orchestra is for its musicians to play a piece exactly as written. No, my concern here is with the conservative handling of the source material; Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall are both composers, and you would think that between the two of them they could come up with even one contribution to the existing take on the series.

The next piece did nothing to bring me back onside, of course. I'm notoriously awful at first-person shooters, so I'll admit that I'm not that big into the Halo series. That's not to say it's a bad series, of course; far from it! Occasional missteps and multiplayer balance issues aside, the games are very well done and deserve every bit of the success they've earned. But with that said, Halo music is... well... it's not very good, it really isn't. It plods, it trudges, and it sounds like something Killer Instinct threw away. This was also the point where Tommy Tallarico joined the orchestra on lead electric guitar, and -- to my surprise and horror -- it turns out that Tommy Tallarico really cannot play guitar live very well at all.

You may think initially that I'm exaggerating, but dear lord. The whole concert came apart at the seams when he brought out the guitar; not only did he begin playing over the orchestra, but he seemed genuinely incapable of staying on the beat and at one point in this piece he completely muffed the dynamics by fuzzing right through when the orchestra came to a full stop. Mute the strings, Tommy! Come on!

Man alive. I want to like Tommy Tallarico, I really do; he's done a lot for video games, and he's done a lot for video game music, and I really would like to be a Tommy Tallarico supporter. But ye gads. I don't know if he gets stage fright, or if he can't fully harness his impulses to skitter around like a five-year-old, or what, but he is genuinely a liability when he's performing onstage. And he plays guitar like old people play Super Mario Brothers; instead of paying attention and playing at the right time, he swings with his guitar and aims with his body like he's going to physically guide the sound to where it needs to go.

The Halo piece was the final segment of the second set (take that, Mario), and it was a pretty rubbish way to close out what had been an otherwise great show -- but then they came back for the encore, and somehow the encore got worse.

The first song of the encore was One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII; as with the Mario segment, this track was left almost entirely unchanged from its original arrangement. (Same as it ever was.) The one change, and not for the better: Tommy Tallarico, and his electric guitar, noodling over the whole piece. Not playing, not accompanying; noodling. Loud unnecessary solos, over-emoted and way too loud and apropos of nothing, the guitar stopping only long enough for Tallarico to chew the scenery and clown around on his tippy-toes in front of the orchestra.

He can't even keep time! I think my brain legitimately started to sizzle in protest when I saw this happen. He started a clap-along as the chart began to near its end, but he started by clapping way too fast; since he had all of the spotlights trained on him and he was clapping way out of time with the song, the audience clapped along with him and then ended up nowhere near the time the orchestra was keeping. It was all a mess, a terribly disoriented and disappointing mess, and I was just happy to see it end without collapsing under its own weight.

The final song of the evening retained Tallarico on guitar and brought Martin Leung back out to play the organ; Tommy drew out the big reveal for a while before finally announcing that the show would close with Castlevania. My brother and I are both tremendous Castlevania dorks -- he was wearing a Castlevania shirt to the show, for heaven's sakes -- and since the Space Invaders attendant had casually mentioned in passing that Castlevania would be part of the setlist, we had both been sitting anxiously the whole show hoping for something awesome.

The arrangement was written well, Martin Leung was stellar on the organ and the video montage was mostly great with a few awkward 3D shots thrown in. But! But. I don't know if I mentioned this yet, maybe I might have touched on it in passing, but Tommy Tallarico was really not very good at playing the electric guitar live on stage this particular evening. Since the piece involved a heavy focus on the guitar parts -- it's Castlevania, after all -- it all kind of balanced itself out and was just sort of there, albeit very loudly. There would have been worse ways to end it, so I was happy to see the concert end on a higher note than it otherwise might have.

We skipped the post-concert meet-and-greet with Tallarico and Wall; we were hungry, and honestly we were also kind of underwhelmed. It was well worth the price of admission, and I definitely enjoyed myself both during the concert and during its pre-show gathering, but... damn, did this show rocket downhill in the last hour or so. Yipes.

On their way out they offered that they might come through here again on their next tour; I'll definitely go if they do, figuring that they would likely switch the setlist up almost completely and offer more new and exciting stuff. And I should hope that Tallarico's unfortunate performance could have been a one-time anomaly; maybe he was ill, who knows? Maybe he'll be better next time. Hope springs eternal!

Oh, crap, I have work in the morning. Night, folks!


W4 said...

In all fairness, I know of at least three "Fullmetal Alchemist" video games. I couldn't tell you anything about their music, though.

Maybe I'm a more obscure fan than you, but I'm surprised that there was no "Ikaruga" music.

Graeme Howard said...

I think that the source material should be taken into consideration when selecting your costume, though. I mean, I would've wondered what the hell a guy in a Spawn costume was thinking had one shown up. I know he was in Soul Calibur 2 and had (pretty bad) SNES and GBC games all to himself, but come on. Why? Why would you do that?

Ha ha. Yeah, you were "surprised" there was no Ikaruga music like I was "surprised" we didn't get anything from Espgaluda or Punky Skunk.

Would've been neat if they had thrown everyone for a loop like that, though, you're right.

James Howard said...

You know what I would have liked to hear music from?


Man, what the hell.

Also: I've been reminded that my recollection of the Frogger prizes was incorrect. The winner took home an Xbox 360 (!), which is a pretty sweet prize for scoring fewer than three thousand points at Frogger; it was never mentioned which version of the console it was, but I guess that was a moot point. The loser ended up with the gift certificate and the (hee hee) OC Remix CD, as well as her complimentary home game of Frogger.

tyler said...

I'm wondering if Capcom is just unwilling to along for the ride since it's no question how many iconic franchises they have with iconic music. It wouldn't surprise me if they're having trouble obtaining licenses, just like how Square doesn't want them showing footage from their products (that's why you saw Disney during Kingdom Hearts and nothing during One Winged Angel).

Considering that the Mario piece was a copy, it makes me wonder if it wasn't something they just felt they had to get through. It's dramatic change in tone compared to the rest of the set kind of shows that too. Personally, I don't care for Mario music in itself either and only regard it in it's relation to the legacy of the series. I guess that's how they viewed it too.

Halo, I'll admit I'm a bit more fond of in terms of it's music but that's boring to discuss. Judging by your review, you sound like one of the people who would prefer the non-rock rendition of the Halo theme from the first game. And to be honest, you're not the only one who wasn't very fond of the rock remix in the second.

Just like Halo 2 did to the Halo theme, Advent Children caused One Winged Angel to be forever associated now with a guitar. Judging by how much larger a role the guitar has in the actual rock arrangements of those pieces, it could've been much worse.

As for Tommy's guitar...skills. Whether or not he's good, the main thing is he doesn't have much of a choice. It would be a challenge picking a specific guitar player for the shows since WSO doesn't exactly have an electric guitar on their list and while Martin Leung is the Video Game Pianist, there is no one guy who is known as the Video Game Guitarist. The guy who wrote the Halo rock rendition was Steve Vai so good luck with that one.

Too be honest, I really enjoyed it and sincerely hope that they do return. It's obvious, given the setlist and the arrangements of the pieces themselves that this concert would be very "safe" and very mainstream and who can blame them? Considering that we're Winnipeg and it's always a risk when determining what we would pay money to go see. They'll likely play a different setlist but if you'll look at their entire setlist, it's still fairly mainstream outside of one or two niche franchises. They're constantly adding to it but I'm pretty sure it'll be a few years until we get some truly niche stuff and by then, there'll be a ton more mainstream franchises to take up what little time they already have.

Also, considering that Halo and One Winged Angel are the two most known "epic" video game themes, they're likely here to stay as the closers. I too would love to see Ikaruga as a piece but I'm pretty sure that's one we'll never see. I'm just glad that a video game concert actually came to Winnipeg.

Larry "Liontamer" Oji said...

Compared to what I read from your show, I thought the pair of shows I attended in Washington, DC turned out a lot better.
Though there were definitely some games that didn't get the crowd popping when they were mentioned, it seems like our crowd was a lot hotter overall for a lot of games you cited as getting a weak reaction, especially Civilization IV and "Baba Yetu". I think the Tron movie had most people scratching their heads despite enjoying the actual music once it was performed.

Too bad you didn't enjoy the ReMixes on Earthworm Jim Anthology. Not all of them are on OC ReMix, but I thought with great guys like Mazedude and The OneUps, they were a nice inclusion, showing what other fans have done with the music.

As for the limited edition OC ReMix CDs given away, Tommy mis-stated what was on it. The 500-or-so ReMixes on there are actually from artists who signed our Content Policy allowing their music to be distributed by OCR on physical media for promotional purposes. And since the Content Policy is a relatively new aspect of the site, most of the people who agreed to it are current contributors to OCR, and thus most of the tracks on the CD are of our latest work. We definitely know some of the older material drastically pales to what we post nowadays, but they're a part of where we came from, so they're a nice little piece of history. There are a lot of video game music fans who don't know of OC ReMix, so we thought it was a great idea when Tommy proposed pressing some promo CDs and giving them away at the shows. Anything that helps the exposure of our free music community is good for us, including VGL.

Too bad the show wasn't without it's hitches, James, but props for calling it like you saw it with the highs and lows of the performance. It was a lengthy review, but I enjoyed going through it.

I'm also glad to read you'd go back again, though, if only to make sure you get a stronger performance!

Larry "Liontamer" Oji
Head Submissions Evaluator, OverClocked ReMix
Creator, VG Frequency
Staff, VGMdb