Video Games Live in Washington, DC (6/29-6/30) Report

Having attended both nights of concerts (June 29th & 30th) from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, I finally wanted to get my thoughts down. My girlfriend, The Lady, has her own take on the concerts, available at Century Fille. She has a great outsider perspective on things, and always speaks her mind.

As the OC ReMix group stopped by after rehearsal was over on Friday, one thing I really liked about Tommy Tallarico was that he wears what he wants whenever he wants. His outfits are crazy (love his Spider-Man shirt; wish they had it in black), but I relish the freedom he has to do as he pleases.

Tommy and his brother Mike Tallarico (VGL's merchandise manager) dipped their hands everywhere trying to coordinate things leading up the show. As noted by my colleague Jimmy "Big Giant Circles" Hinson, Mike in particular was very attentive and integral to getting djpretzel and the OCR representatives set up for prize giveaways on both days, as well as stocking OCR t-shirts for sale alongside VGL merchandise.

Every time we needed help, Mike was more than willing to assist, and we were thankful for his help the whole way. "Merchandise Manager" doesn't begin to describe the amount of things Mike assists with or is responsible for. In lieu of djpretzel's unavailability for Saturday's show, Mike provided Jimmy & I (and our respective ladies) with the backstage hook up, which we greatly appreciated. Luckily, one of Jimmy & I's last memories of VGL was taking a picture with Mike and saying our goodbyes as he and the rest of the tour got ready to leave DC and head to Detroit for the July 6th leg of the tour.

I was very impressed with The Lady, as she worked effortlessly to get djpretzel involved in media coverage of the Friday night show, working the room and obtaining interviews with the National Symphony Orchestra's in-house media team as well as National Public Radio and Wired Magazine. She also spoke afterwards at length with Cindy Wall (Jack Wall's wife) regarding both Video Games Live and OverClocked ReMix and also provided each of the celebrities at the Friday meet-and-greet with Andrew "zircon" Aversa's latest CD "Antigravity". She's very well suited to be OC ReMix's press liaison, and I liked watching her in action.

The shows themselves were a great experience. It was rewarding hearing OC ReMixes playing in the Concert Hall as people entered in to take their seats. DjSammyG of our meetup group managed to snag top honors in Friday night's costume contest as a red L-block from Tetris. (Check him out in the Washingtonian's blog, hoping to be outdone by Mega Man.) Sammy won, thanks to the crowd's nostalgia of Tetris over all other games. The OCR delegation made sure to whoop it up.

The music itself was excellent. My lady thought the more traditional-sounding orchestral arrangements (e.g. God of War, Medal of Honor, World of Warcraft) felt too similar, and that you only got a substantial change of pace from the arrangements based on non-orchestral soundtracks (Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog). I'm a fan regardless of genre, and I felt like the pieces arranged from orchestral originals were significantly different. For more modern game scores, the soundtracks are more create moods rather than hooks, thus seeming less defined by any one particular aspect. It gets into the debate of the values of older vs. newer game music, but that's neither here nor there.

During the Metal Gear Solid portion, one could tell that Tommy was the guy under the box on stage due to his telltale shoes. What I didn't learn until I hung out backstage the following day was that Mike was actually the soldier who ended up being alerted to "Snake's" presence, with real armor (but a plastic gun). Definitely a cool tidbit just illustrating how into the nitty-gritty these guys are in terms of putting on the show.

djpretzel got a little of the VGL shine reflected on him not just via the interviews and autographs he gave, but also being able to head up on stage and give away the swag from Friday's Space Invaders intermission (courtesy of DreamAuthentics and the very affable Rick Baretto [President & CEO]), including a DVD full of OC ReMixes. Having gone on stage Saturday night, I can confirm the excitement one feels. It's just good to be involved in something that helps legitimize the quality and professionalism of video game music, which is a mutual goal of OCR and VGL.

Martin Leung, the Video Game Pianist, also tore it up with a 10-song medley from the Final Fantasy series. There was a cool video crossfade effect that was done on Friday but not Saturday (one camera on keys, one on Martin), so I was glad to be in the audience when it was possible. The guy reminds me of Shnabubula's material, not in terms of writing, but in terms of sheer speed. The speed Martin maintains on the keys was impressive, straight up.

Martin seemingly almost had to have his set trimmed down in order to maintain the show's rigid schedule (a Kennedy Center issue, not VGL's), but it was cool seeing Tommy check in with Martin every few minutes just keeping him aware of what would end up happening. Luckily, Martin's planned Final Fantasy set went off without a hitch, though we didn't get to see him perform blindfolded.

Laurie Robinson of Advent Rising was on board for soprano for AR's portion of the show, with some amazing vocals. Being a regular part of the tour, Laurie really seemed in her element backstage on Saturday in terms of simply enjoying the show and chatting with the other performers, frequently joining we backstage onlookers at the right wing of the stage to check out her colleagues in actions. The power in her voice was only made better being a mere 10 feet or so away just offstage.

At any point, I would have loved to have gotten anonymous comments from members of the National Symphony Orchestra on their feelings regarding the concert. The Lady mentioned that one member loved the God of War set in particular, while another member seemed pretty dismissive of the whole affair. I'd think it would be a great thing to play two back-to-back sold out shows with very enthusiastic crowds, but crowds aren't everything.

The meet-and-greet Friday night was fun, and I enjoyed getting acquainted with the pros there, who were all very friendly. Along with other pros, I also met Laurie's husband, fellow composer Emmanuel Fratianni, Brothers in Arms' Stephen Harwood, Jr., as well as Civilization IV's Christopher Tin. The post-show was pretty long though, and I could tell by Jack Wall's demeanor that he was hoping to get elsewhere. As the conductor, he's got as busy a time as anybody as compared to some of the pros who were merely part of the crowd and after-events. Jack was nice enough to snap some quick pics with Jimmy and I on Saturday before getting the hell out of dodge, hopefully for some relaxation.

After mentioning Mazedude's recent God of War ReMix "Minatour Nightmares" (arranging material by Cris Velasco), Gerard Marino gave me his business card and mentioned that if anyone wants to arrange pieces from God of War, he'd hook them up with sheet music, MIDIs, SFX samples, anything they needed to help get the job done. Indeed, Big Giant Circles was yet another person who was astounded by God of War's set in particular, so he confided that he may take Gerard up on the offer.

It was a real pleasure meeting up with the OverClocked ReMix group for our Washington, DC meetup. After traveling to other meetups in the Mid-Atlantic area, it was nice to have one right in my backyard that didn't involve any meaningful travel on my part. Meetups are always fun, and I met a lot of new faces, especially arrangers I'd never met in person yet. I finally got to meet face-to-face with former judges panel colleague Shariq "DarkeSword" Ansari, as well as successfully have Vinnie "Palpable" Prabhu, Wilbert "bustatunez" Roget II, and Brandon "Harmony" Bush all snap up loose tickets on very short notice. I missed having pixietricks and zircon there, especially zircon (who had unexpectedly suffered from appendicitis on Friday and had to convalesce). If I had to "trade them away", I was glad to at least substitute in a lot of really talented musicians who I'd never officially met before.

We all had a great time attending the festivities. One of the most encouraging things I'd heard from Tommy backstage was that ticket demand for the back-to-back shows was so strong, both in presales and walkups on the day of the event, that DC could have run a 3rd show. Very promising news in terms of future shows for a concert series that, in its infancy, almost ceased to be soon after it started. Looking healthy and gaining momentum, whenever Video Games Lives swings by again (Tommy hopes for next year), I'll certainly be there.


Another Soundscape said...

Great coverage man :) a good read

CHz said...

"Gerard Marino gave me his business card and mentioned that if anyone wants to arrange pieces from God of War, he'd hook them up with sheet music, MIDIs, SFX samples, anything they needed to help get the job done."

Now this is stuff I absolutely love to hear. It's great to have composers supporting remixes of their work like this.