Friday, June 27, 2008

Busy Times

Yeah, huh. This week has been crazy for goings-on, hasn't it? You can tell that summer's finally arrived in Winnipeg when everything interesting starts happening at once.

Between the various Jazz Winnipeg Festival events, the tremendous My Winnipeg premiere on Tuesday, my little brother's graduation from high school, putting in overtime at work again, disassembling the metal frame that used to hold my bed up before it got irreparably bent out of shape -- long story -- and going through that giant pile of crazy CDs I borrowed from the library, I've definitely been a busy dude as late.

I'm watching the second quarter of the Bombers opener as I type this, and they've just concluded an interview with the injured Milt Stegall on the sidelines; watching him mug shamelessly for the camera after the interview, then mug for the camera again when they cut back to him after the next play, is some pretty awesome stuff. Not a great game so far, though, more of a penalty-fest than anything else.

When this game is over I may or may not head out and catch the free concerts at Old Market Square for tonight, depending on what the weather's up to; I'm interested in finally catching Ivana Santilli live, but the rain's been so demented today that there's no guarantee of her actually performing tonight. (It is entirely possible for the Jazz Winnipeg Old Market Square weekend concerts to be rained out, as Moses Mayes fans like myself will remember from that one wet Sunday a few years ago.)

The Old Market Square Opening Closing Weekend runs through Sunday night, then the Osborne Village Canada Day mini-festival goes Monday and Tuesday, Tuesday being Canada Day there's also the Forks to consider, then Bugs on Broadway will be either Thursday or Friday depending on which night has better tickets still left, and -- oh, crap, wait! The Jose Gonzalez concerts on the first and second! Are there still tickets left for one of those? Craaaaaaaap -- I, uh, I have to go. Check something.

Busy times, yes. Oh! Do drop by here on Canada Day, though; I'm going to have something you've just gotta get a load of, because it's patriotic and hilarious and historical and awful all at the same time. Something to look forward to!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Inside Every Cynical Person There's a Disappointed Idealist

George Carlin died yesterday from heart failure, seventy-one years old.

Every so often there's of those holy-shit, end-of-an-era deaths that stuns an entire industry and takes two or three generations of the field's history along with it. This is one such passing, no question, and abruptly the world of stand-up comedy (and our modern understanding of 'comedy' as a whole, really) has a gigantic George Carlin-shaped hole in it.

It's not an unexpected death, or an untimely one; he had a long history of heart problems dating as far back as the 1970s and a recent history of drug and alcohol addiction, so the knowledge that he made it to seventy-one is amazing in and of itself. Despite all of that, of course, it's still a disappointment to hear of his passing.

The obituaries on television aren't nearly going to do his career justice, of course; both the best and the most influential material of his storied career will be skimmed over, more out of deference to profanity regulations than anything else. (Occasionally loosened late-night standards aside, you still can't say the Seven Words on television.) So instead of highlighting his continuous dominance of his field, his trailblazing innovations across multiple dramatic reinventions of his material, or his influence on virtually every human being to tell jokes onstage since, the networks will spend way too much time talking about how cute the juxtaposition was that he also had prominent roles on Shining Time Station and in the Bill & Ted movies. (And fuck any station that reads his obituary over a clip from Jersey Girl.)

I spent extended chunks of my teen years ravenously seeking out George Carlin's work -- and since his long career saw him put out three bestselling books and nearly twenty-five albums, finding material to love was not a particularly difficult task. I'm a grown man now, given to ruminations on the quirks of everyday language and given to gleeful bouts of schadenfreude; it'd be foolish to claim that I hadn't enjoyed either of these activites before getting into Carlin, but it'd be outright false to claim that he had no part at all in shaping my development.

Yes, fine, and he was Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. I know. I watched it too. Yes, yes, he was very whimsical. I'm glad you remember him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Just For Laughs: Gags is Really, Really Awful

Uptown Magazine! The pause that refreshes! You can read my article for this week here, and I wholly recommend that you do so.

In a fine bit of incidental timing, the CBC chose this very day today to officially launch their stupid contest. And they're attempting to spin a reality-show special out of it, too! I hadn't even considered that possibility -- mostly because that possibility is awful -- but damned if that doesn't fit exactly into what I wrote for this column. Go me!

CTVglobemedia, serving both as makeshift archivists of Canadian pop-cultural history and as contemptible greedhead scumbags, seem as intent on skeletonizing the CBC as the CBC seems intent on skeletonizing itself. Any bets on who or what gets suddenly bought out and transferred to private ownership next? The clear frontrunner right now is Elliotte Friedman, at 3:1 odds; the longshot darkhorse is Rex Murphy at 150:1, mostly because he entertains all discussion on the subject by staring at the negotiator like this.

Ha ha, geez. I almost want to flinch and apologize instinctively every time I look at that picture. His default facial expression always reminds me of Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show, bless his heart.

I've tried my best so far not to get into this, but let's just go ahead and get it right out -- Just For Laughs: Gags is some amazingly unfunny bullshit, I tell you what. I don't mean to harp on the subject -- and I'm certainly not the first person to express this opinion -- but lord thunderin' god I want to headbutt whoever keeps putting that on television.

To give you some idea of how the show tends to play out, if the recent Maxime Bernier scandal had been staged by Just For Laughs: Gags, the whole thing would have looked like this:

[SCENE: A Montreal city street, mid-day, with golly-gee wacky-hijinks music playing in the background. Julie COUILLARD, surrounded by five angry-looking BIKERS and showing way more cleavage than is entirely necessary, waves to the camera and overacts shamelessly. The BIKERS stand cross-armed and nod knowingly to the camera, mugging shamelessly.]

[Cut abruptly to a shot of the same spot on the street, now empty. Maxime BERNIER, wearing a dapper suit and appearing lost in thought, comes walking down the street carrying a large manilla folder. He looks an awful lot like Craig T. Nelson, which isn't necessarily relevant to the script but still bears mention.]

[BERNIER, now looking through the papers in the folder, walks into the designated spot on the sidewalk.]

HIJINKS MUSIC: derp de derple de derrp de derrp

[Running into the picture as best she can on high heels, COUILLARD grabs him by the arm and stops him. BERNIER, looking up from his files, appears surprised and puzzled.]


[COUILLARD appears to say something to BERNIER, grabs the folder out of his hands, gives him an affectionate peck on the cheek and runs out of the shot again. BERNIER looks down at his now-empty hand, then around the street in confusion.]


[BERNIER, still standing in place and looking around, finds himself suddenly surrounded as the five BIKERS emerge from behind a conveniently placed hedge. The BIKERS, scrunching their faces overzealously to appear tough, move their mouths as if questioning BERNIER angrily; BERNIER begins shaking his head and moving his mouth as if explaining the situation, gesticulating dramatically with his hands.]


[COUILLARD comes back into the shot, holding the folder, and waves her hands as if to shoo the bikers away.]


[BERNIER, now visibly upset, waves his hands in a questioning motion and appears to ask COUILLARD about the situation. COUILLARD hands BERNIER the folder back, grabs him by the arm and directs his attention to the camera. BERNIER looks stunned for a second, then smiles thinly and nods in resignation.]


[Freeze frame on BERNIER's face. Yellow bars drop down to cover part of the screen, and the Just For Laughs: Gags logo appears. END SCENE.]

In conclusion, Just For Laughs: Gags is repugnant horse pucky and the CBC is staffed by idiots. Those are the main points I want to convey, really.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Was Just Outside the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition Founding Meeting

Mine tonight is an anecdote that quintessentially encapsulates how Winnipeg and I get along.

I had wanted to check out that Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition thing tonight, which was starting at seven. (I mentioned that last night, hadn't I? I think I had.) Unluckily for my purposes, I don't get off work until six each night -- and my commute home is no fun lah, especially considering that the city's traffic lights are apparently programmed by spiteful troglodytes.

When I got home I switched out of my unflattering work clothes as quickly as possible, checked the transit times online ("oh come on") and booked it out the front door towards the bus stop at the end of the block. Now, I suppose this part is my own fault; I wish in retrospect that I'd thought to check beforehand, but it really hadn't occured to me this would be the day that road construction swallows up ten or fifteen feet of pavement around my closest bus stop.

Would anybody like to guess what the bus did? Guess what the bus did. You know, it's amazing how few stops those things actually make when you're chasing them for a couple blocks.

The next bus wasn't for another fifteen minutes, of course, so I had plenty of time to think about how spectacularly funny the whole thing was. Ha! Ha ha ha! Wouldn't you know it, here I was trying to go drop in on a group advocating for improving the city's transit system, and I couldn't get there on time because the transit system pooched me! ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

So I get there fifteen minutes late, right, and...

I'd clearly underestimated the numbers this meeting would draw, but the organizers had clearly been underestimating the numbers right along with me. In the fifteen minutes it took me to get there, the event had gone from everyone-grab-a-seat to standing-room-only, then to whoops-there-go-the-occupancy-limits, and then to okay-we're-in-two-rooms-now. And I couldn't get into either one! The original meeting room was guarded by (hee hee) library security at this point, to ensure that the occupancy limits remain unchallenged, and the hastily-assembled second room was so crowded that I only got to take a peek inside when someone else at the door graciously gave me his spot for a couple seconds.

I'm glad I had an equally-important backup plan for my library antics, or I'd have been pissed.

I'm a dude who loves going through CDs in libraries, especially considering the kind of goofy albums that can pop up from time to time. And, by fortunate coincidence, the CD section and the Carol Shields Room are on the same floor; the two are only separated by a couple dozen footsteps, in fact. So I set into a little routine for a while where I would pick out a couple of CDs, drift over to the Coalition thing and see if any standing room had opened up yet, then drift back to the CDs and pick up where I left off.

"Excuse me -- how many CDs can you have out at once?"

The big interesting local political event of the week went down and I was fifty feet removed from it, looking at CDs instead; the whole picture describes my modus operandi better than I would actually care to admit. Look at me, I'm the zany slice-of-life guy.

I may have been late enough to bar my access to the event, but hey, I could feel better knowing that I did beat Dan Vandal there. I was standing to the side and carrying about fifteen CDs in my hands when I saw him breeze by, clearly rushing over from another engagement; he and I exchanged nods, not because we've ever met or anything, but because I happened to recognize him and then he figured he may as well nod back to the tall dude in the Venom shirt holding a day's worth of music.

You know what, I never did get into either of those rooms and find out what was going on. I'd taken a transfer when I got on that second bus, in case anything were to go awry; it was an unusually generous transfer, giving me a whole hour and a half (oh boy!), but I'd now blown that time alternating between finding neat CDs and totally not finding out what the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition is up to.

I needed to check my items out and get back down to street level, pronto -- and I did, but it didn't matter. The buses I needed for actually getting home were twenty-five minutes apart, and that's never good news for a dude whose transfer expires between them.


I caught another bus that was kinda-sorta going in the right direction and then hoofed it for fifteen minutes, still beating my bus home. And after all of that I just ended up sitting at home, keeping up by reading the great Hacks & Wonks liveblog of the event and listening to quirky borrowed music.

Winnipeg Labour Choir - Which Side Are You On? (The Red Album, 1995)
[info | that's actually pretty much it for online info | you can borrow the album from the library when I'm done with it]

So, yeah, go me. I was near, but not actually at, the founding meeting of the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition. I tried!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

No, Seriously, What Does This Say

Maybe you're better at deciphering these kinds of things than I am, so I'll pass the message along, but I don't know what's going on here and I've read the whole thing at least twice.

Tomorrow night at 7:00 PM, the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition is holding their 'founding meeting' in the Carol Shields room of the Millennium Library. That part I got! The rest of the message is kind of obscured, though, because everything else on their sparse website just made my head hurt the longer I read it.

As an example:

"We are dedicated to working towards an alternative vision for our City by fostering more citizen participation in civic government, promoting social justice, improving our city’s natural environment, ensuring more open and accountable civic government, protecting the public services that we all depend on, developing safe and vibrant communities, and facilitating fair economic development opportunities for all Winnipeggers."

Come on, you guys, that's fifty-eight words in one sentence. There must be a better way to get your message across.

Luckily for writers and readers alike, the group had an op-ed piece published last week in the Free Press. This article better explains the formation of the group and actually delves into concrete issues to address; the website is almost incomprehensible except to say that the coalition yearns for a wave of vaguely-defined change, so the article helps immensely to bring the group into better focus.

A big-tent catch-all party, allegedly for moderate centrists, is advocating for civic funding changes to support public transportation, community centres and general social development. (Counting hyphenated terms as two words each, this new group took me twenty-six words to explain. They could edit their website a bit better! That's all I'm saying, here.)

So that's apparently what's up for tomorrow, if you're interested in that sort of thing. I would have figured that the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition draws much the same sort of crowd that Matthew Good might, so it probably sucks for somebody that the Matthew Good concert is tomorrow at around the same time. Strange organizational choice, but hey, let 'em have their fun.

I might drop in to the Library tomorrow, if only to see what even goes on at such an affair; I'm a curious sort by nature, it's a local political thing going on when I'm not at work (!), and they might serve some snacks or something. And hey, if the meeting resembles the website more than it resembles the article, I can always skip out and go borrow some CDs to burn whatever I might want off of them for listening to legally at some point in the future.

It's funny how I get distracted on these tangents, really. Honestly? I wouldn't have even brought any of this up if the website's address-bar favicon didn't kind of look like a Metroid.

You see it too, right? Right? Come on, don't leave me hanging here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I checked my mail today, oh boy.

It came! It's here!

Nicholas Eckert is a terrific human being, and I owe him, if nothing else, a nice postcard of Winnipeg that doesn't have a stupid cartoon mosquito on it. Thanks, Nick! I don't know if you heard, but I live in a city that kind of doesn't have an NHL team these days; I'll have to find some goofy local item to show my appreciation.

I know I've been over this before, but man I love this slogan. I don't know whether I'm going to wear this shirt or frame it.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange (Orange, 1994)
[buy | site | info | myspace | surprisingly interesting mtv article]


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!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mmm Whuzza Five More Minutes

Holy crap, is it ten? Oh, geez, it's ten. Aww, man.

Sorry, folks! I'm afraid the Video Games Live recap will have to wait one more day. As you've come to expect from me, it'll be a bombastic and majestic combination of words and images and music files -- so, as you've also come to expect from me, it will be delayed slightly because I came home exhausted from a long day at work and my attempt at sneaking in a tiny nap has instead left me bleary and disoriented.

I suspect I'm rambling, a little. Oh man I'm tired. I can barely even -- today was Saturday? Right? Wasn't it?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Everything's Blatantly Overpriced, But You Get to Scratch Something

I went to Video Games Live last night! It was, er... mixed. Had its ups and downs. You know.

I'll be providing you guys with a full and comprehensive piece on the event, both for the pre-show goings-on and for the show itself -- but that will be up tomorrow night. No, not tonight; tonight, I have come to gloat.

Ha! Ha! It is possible to win on one of these miserable things! The day-olds I've just bought will taste ever the sweeter knowing that they heralded my victory!

If you've bought anything at all at a Safeway recently, you've no doubt received one of these faux-lottery scratch ticket things. And you didn't win anything from it! No, sir, no you did not. That's the outstanding consensus I've heard from everybody who has seen one while I'm in earshot; literally nobody that I've ran into has won anything on this latest batch of uninspired customer-loyalty grabs. (Mind you, at least these ones aren't based on Texas Hold 'Em. What was with that?)

Much like the Roll Up the Rim odds, anecdotal evidence would indicate that Safeway has been cutting back dramatically on the chances of anybody winning any prizes. These are lean times, after all! The rising costs of construction mean that Safeway already blew its entire promotional budget on their widespread and awful 'lifestyle store' renovations, so there's no money left this quarter to actually give anything out.

The 'game', such as it is, is structured so that the player will scratch the designated spaces in numerical order to build anticipation towards the thrill of unearthing a sizeable reward -- but nobody ever wins on the damn things, so I just scratch the last square and throw it away. Hell with that! I'm a sexy, paradigm-shiftin' iconoclast, I don't need your conventional numbering system.

And now my rebellious, snotty attitude has paid off in spades! Ten Air Miles, oh boy! I'm gonna take these ten Air Miles and, and... and fly to Transcona! Yeah, that's right, I bet you're jealous! Ha!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Detroit Red Wings are the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions

Boy, are they ever. It came down to the craziest of crazy possible ways to close out a game, and the game-winning goal was Marc-Andre Fleury firing the puck backwards into the net with his ass like a Mario Party ground-pound, but the Detroit Red Wings are quite definitively the best team in the National Hockey League.

Every so often a team will win the Stanley Cup and people will go "yeah, well, but" because the winner didn't have to play X team, or because X player on the other team was injured, or what have you -- but this year the Champions are definitely the best of the best, and it would take a few leaps of logic to argue otherwise. The Playoffs this year were actually pretty underwhelming, all told, but they were also pretty straightforward; nobody in the East so much as took Pittburgh to seven games, and none of Detroit's opponents -- Pittsburgh included -- made it past Game Six with them. They made Pittburgh look like amateurs for the bulk of the series, and good on them for showing us all that it's possible to play exceptional defensive hockey without making the game profoundly boring.

Congratulations to the Champs! Another NHL season done! No doubt my productivity is bound to shoot upwards again, now that hockey's off the air for a few months. I'll have plenty of time to just kick back, think about things, maybe get going on -- holy crap, UEFA Euro 2008 starts Saturday? uh brb

[Edit, One Hour Later:]

pffffft ha ha ha ha

Way to build the suspense, Winnipeg Sun. Not to be mean, or to belabour the point, but you guys could stand to edit your website a bit more thoroughly. All I'm sayin'!