I could sit here all day and point out wonderful pieces of music from video games that could stand alone as terrific examples of what one should place in their playlist. Video Games Live (VGL) arranges said video game music into a format an orchestra can play, and then does so with game footage playing in the background. In many instances, these videos are fitting homages to the original games. Video Games Live was recently at Strathmore in Bethesda, and I caught the 8 p.m. show.
Let’s first mention the venue. Strathmore is a concert hall in Bethesda, MD. It has 4 rows of seats, and a nice selection of balcony seats as well. Acoustically, the room is warm, and plenty of thought was given to its construction. The seats are comfortable, and I did not mind sitting down for two hours. The staff is courteous and helpful. There is a major concession stand that was open before the performance making salads, sandwiches and other delights, while a drinks/candy stand at ground and another at lower levels served a bulk of the people. The price markup is not completely outrageous. All in all, Strathmore is a great place to hold any musical event.
There’s no established dress code, apparently. I saw plenty of people in jeans/sneakers/tshirts, an equal number of people in business attire, and some people in costume. I was among the middle group. The audience was permitted to shout during the performance, and considering the content of the show, that’s more of a benefit. Video Games Live is more about the audience than the music.
The format included three screens, the middle larger than the other two, playing video while the music was being played. Most videos were montages. The montage for Kingdom Hearts was touching – it was fairly sad at first, and I heard some people say, “Aww,” and saw the person to my left shed a tear. Suffice it to say, the videos helped immerse the people into the music.
VG Live opened up with music that reflected sound effects from ancient (by relative comparison) games like Pong, Asteroids, then segued into Flight of the Valkyries. There were some pleasant renditions of Donkey Kong, Frogger, Dragon’s Lair, Duck Hunt, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Gauntlet, Contra, Outrun and Tetris.
Tommy Tallarico was introduced by the voice of Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. Tallarico is an established video game music writer and started Video Games Live almost 6 years ago. Every performance involves a local orchestra – in this case, the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and National Philharmonic Chorale, both based out of the Strathmore.
Every performance of Video Games Live includes a local performance, and here is where I mention the low point of the evening. Tallarico found the Gamer Symphony Orchestra out of University of Maryland, College Park. I have listened to them before and I’ve found them to be loosely played, out of tune, and in need of practice. In short, the GSO is not ready for ‘prime-time.’ Tallarico and GSO leaders scored a piece made specifically for the Bethesda performance, with GSO singer Chris Apple singing the “Tetris Opera.”
About Mr. Apple: I could waste about100 words trashing him, and in a previous draft of this revue I did. Instead, I’ll be as brief as possible. Apple sang from his throat, which led him to strain his voice by the end. He mumbled during his singing, so he was difficult to understand. In addition, Apple was singing in Russian, but in the wrong case, the words that I could make out, that is. His performance nearly made me walk out right there, right then. God bless intermission. I’ll add this – on the GSO website, they have a performance of the song “Snake Eater” from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It’s one of my favorite songs from a video game, and I must refrain from hearing it for a while because of how bad GSO butchered it.
There’s a video of a person playing the Super Mario Bros. theme song blindfolded. That person would be Martin Long, and he played that, music from Super Mario World, and a Final Fantasy medley LIVE. Fantastic.
Tallarico came back out for the second half to play guitar alongside the orchestra. It sounded great, but if I could make a change, I would lower the volume levels of Tallarico’s guitars. You see, Gentle Reader, the guitar playing overpowered the orchestra. Like I said, minor change.
FINAL GRADE: B+ (With no thanks to the GSO)
TRR Concert Revue by Geoffrey Beebe