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Review: Video Games Live 2009

 
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USA Luther_III
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 12:26 pm   Post subject: Review: Video Games Live 2009 Reply with quote


I recently had the fortune of seeing Video Games Live in Houston, TX. Easily the best word to describe the experience would be: FUN.

My dad actually sings in the Houston Symphony Chorus, and so he was able to purchase a ticket for me at a discount, and since I had not seen him in concert for a long time, I thought it would be a nice treat. And it was. What I didn't know when I had him purchase the ticket was that it was really part of an all-day event: Gamer MusiCON 09. My ticket actually included TWO concerts, plus contests and activities all day long. The afternoon concert was "Blizzard Live!"—a show featuring the music of games from Blizzard Entertainment, mainly the WarCraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises. The evening concert was the titular Video Games Live.

I have to say that I may have had a slightly different experience than most of the crowd, because I had not actually played many of the games whose music was featured (unless they were more than 10 years old or so), but I was familiar with almost all of the music (thanks to SST). So I didn't really get into the contests, costumes, merchandise, and other fan-traps they had set there. While others no doubt enjoyed reliving their gaming experiences (and asserting their WarCraft allegiances with shouts between sets) I really was there for the music, and for the performance. At the beginning of the first concert, the hosts made a big deal about the fact that the 160+ musicians onstage comprised a world-record for the number of musicians playing video game music. I knew then I was in for a treat.

I have to admit the afternoon concert left me a bit skeptical. The orchestra seemed a little off (I had heard the Houston Symphony before and they are magnificent), conductor Jack Wall had some trouble with the equipment, and I was surprised that even after host Tommy Tallarico encouraged the audience to cheer and make noise as much as they wanted, the fanboys didn't really seem that into it. Later I realized: the concert was at 3:00 in the afternoon... most of those kids probably hadn't even had breakfast yet! While Blizzard games have some of the best music in the industry, I'm not sure they did themselves any favors by cramming it all into one concert. The music was wonderful live, and especially as accompanied by the lighting rig and clips projected onto the three big screens, but how many WarCraft suites can you really tolerate in one concert?

Thankfully, the evening concert lived up to the hype. Even though the performers and even the audience were essentially the same, the atmosphere was totally changed. The orchestra was tight, the crowd was into it, and it truly was an incredibly fun experience. Highlights included a live Skype interview with Ralph Baer, the inventor of the fist video game; an on-stage "Space Invaders" challenge by an audience participant; impressive solo piano arrangements by Martin Leung, a kid who made a name for himself on YouTube by posting a video of himself playing his own solo arrangement of Super Mario Bros.—blindfolded; and of course, the music!

The most fun part of the concert was unexpected for me. They brought to the stage the winner of a Guitar Hero contest that was held earlier in the day. Tallarico then promised him a brand-new laptop and signed special edition of the new WarCraft if he could score 200,000 points on the Expert level of Guitar Hero. The guy played Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” live on the center screen featured onstage, while the orchestra and chorus accompanied Aerosmith’s music. The crowd cheered as he racked up 100, 200, and 300-note streaks, and went absolutely ballistic when he reached the 200,000-point goal. That was truly a unique experience.

There were some minor disappointments. Conductor (and occasional game soundtrack composer) Jack Wall seemed to have a lot to worry about as he fussed with the equipment, presumably to start each click track that would ensure synchrony with the visuals, and provided precious few cues to the musicians, who unmistakably missed entrances on occasion. (This was confirmed by my dad later.) The major annoyance, though, was the audio mixing. It must be incredibly difficult to mix acoustic and amplified instruments and an entire chorus in a hall acoustically designed for orchestra, and it showed. I may have been biased, but the amplified instruments were too loud—they forced the choir to be mic’ed, which was done terribly inadequately: the female voices in the front were much louder than the barely audible male voices. This particular downfall was absolutely unforgivable for the Halo suite. The mixing ended up all muddled together so that individual sections, or instruments, were impossible to make out. The live mixing was far inferior to the recording that was released on CD last year. Overall, this detracted from the experience, but it did not ruin it.

Despite all the fun and games (pun intended), in the end, it was all about the music, and the music selections did not disappoint. There is something truly special about experiencing music live—the glint of the brass, the strings bowing in unison, the tubular bells reverberating, the blur of the timpanist’s mallets, the concussion of the bass drum, the choir standing just before their cue, Tommy Tallarico jamming on his Spider-Man guitar—the experience as a whole can never really be captured in a recording. By the end of the 2+ hours of entertainment, including two encores, I was more than satisfied, more than happy… I was actually changed by the experience. Tallarico claimed that this 4th consecutive annual appearance in Houston was a tour record, and promised a return next year. I just may have to make this an annual event.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:11 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


Oh wow... sounds like great fun! Wish I'd been there!

And...

Luther_III wrote:
(...) but how many WarCraft suites can you really tolerate in one concert?


All of them! TWICE!!! LaughingWink
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:20 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


Thanks for the review, Luther.

I went to VGL here in Vancouver last February and agree that is was a pretty unique experience. I think they held their very first concert here. Sounds like they performed a lot of the same stuff. My only complaint, similar to yours, is that the choir was too soft and overpowered by the orchestra and electronics, but all in all, a great show. I'm not much of a gamer, but I would highly recommend it to gamers and music fans alike.

Cheers,
PMF
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 3:58 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Great Review Luther. Thank you!
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USA Luther_III
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2009 2:52 pm   Post subject: Reply with quote


Thanks pmf and molossus. And Alien--I actually take my words back. Those were all nice suites, to be honest.

Mr. Green
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2009 6:08 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Hi Luther.
It's awesome review and must be a unique experience for you to be apart of a huge event. It's fine to read how entertaining that was. It has inspired me to participate in next year event.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 07, 2009 1:39 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


Would love to have such concert near Switzerland one time... it's always so far away.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:11 am   Post subject: Reply with quote


When we first got the album here at SST, I liked it a little. Not into video games at all but have learned a lot about them by hanging out here in chat and with a few other folks I know.

However, PBS, Public Broadcasting System, is into full blown pledge time. They run so many concerts over and over and over till you can hum them in your sleep! NOT this time!

I was so excited to seee Video Game Live Concert as one of their pledge events I could hard wait to get to chat and tell all!!! Ok it would have helped if I had remember the name of the album!!! (thanks Alchemist fore enlightening me.) I knew I knew that sound and the cover is blown up on the back screen behind the choir.

From the time they did the concert mentioned in the two reviews to the one they did with The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for a national PBS special on Thursday, April 1, 2010, they really fine tuned everything.

Of course since this is for the pledge time they do not show the whole concert. But you can buy the DVD of it! They did play 12 pieces of music. I am in on "Civilization" I knew I knew the sound, but not the title. I won't forget it now!

My dilema is do I get just the CD for one price, or the DVD, or hey spend really big bucks and get the CD, DVD, 2 other CDs of music, and a book? Oh by the way that w is $200. Love my PBS, but not that much!

It is on You Tube so type in the title and see the production.

One more thing, during the interview with Tommy Tallarico, he played Pong with the host, who knew nothing of that game and how quiet it was! Now that is my speed of video game!!!!
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