Video Games Live symphonically celebrates the best of videogame music. Led by composer Tommy Tallarico, the orchestra have performed to sold out theaters worldwide for 12 strong years now. Subjectively, I dig the cultural preservation aspect of the series, respect Tallarico’s composing and reviewing work, and enjoy most classic videogame soundtracks. Objectively, there isn’t much to appeal to folks that aren’t already fans. Can Video Games Live attract wider acceptance to this maligned music genre?
With better programming, polish, and practice.
Mixing the Programming
Launching directly into a vigorous Castlevania medley was an inspired way to grab the audience’s attention. That momentum carried through until the closing of the first half: “Tetris Opera.” After the intermission, the intensity waned. Maybe retaining the same format could have helped? Most of the later medleys could have been improved with trimming down repetitive moments. Maybe including a wider mix of song tempos, ranging from energetic to mellow, could help keep things interesting?
Polishing the Presentation
Laura Intravia’s Electronic Wind Instrument performance evoked the digital instruments that structure the sounds of videogame music. Her lead performance during the Donkey Kong Country medley was the evening’s standout. Other medleys were cluttered, compositionally and visually. Random pictures, rather than consistent gameplay narratives, were prevalent during the second half. The intent was probably displaying fan creations, though occasionally it seemed more like boring lecture slides. Maybe a consistent aesthetic throughout would have tied everything together?
Practice One-Winged Angel
I’ve been obsessed with “One-Winged Angel” for the better part of 20 years. It is, perhaps, the most ambitious song within the entire genre. Composer Uematsu Nobuo once described the piece as his take on the groundbreaking music of Jimi Hendrix. The intricate piece is probably suited for larger symphonies because subtleties like the strained introductory horns were missing from this smaller orchestral performance. Maybe a rocking Black Mages rendition could better fit the orchestra?
Judgement Day: Misses
Random uncredited fanart and cosplay photography sequences were weird compared to the gameplay footage from the first half of the show. Together with some generic comedic pictures during the singalong “Still Alive” and unrelated comedy videos, the overall presentation looked cheap. Some of the performances, especially the Chrono series songs, could have used more thorough practice to better sell the idea of watching videogame music performed live to new audiences. There weren’t enough exciting moments.
Judgement Day: Hits
While much of this review addressed improvement points, most of the performances were solid. There were diverse soundtrack picks and the Tron: Legacy introduction was inspired! This is a fun celebration of videogame music that with some refinement could lead the charge of a cultural revolution toward appreciating videogame music more. Currently, it’s a fun concert experience that reminds you to consider the music playing in the background during the gameplay and visually impressive graphics.
I might go again next year. If it’s convenient.