By Ted AYALA
On June 8, thousands of music lovers converged onto the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Patiently they waited for the theatre’s doors to open – some standing impatiently; others crouched on the floor playing their 3DS or PSP.
At about 7:30 p.m. the doors in the lobby leading to the Nokia’s main stage opened up.
“Oh my God, oh my God! I can’t wait! This is going to be so epic!” squealed a young girl as the crowds slowly spilled into the Nokia.
Assembling on the stage however were no famous rock or pop acts. Instead names like Kinuyo Yamashita, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Yasunori Mitsuda and Christopher Tin figured on a concert program which saw a symphony orchestra and chorus assembled before the audience. Not a typical concert experience, but then again, Video Games Live (VGL) was never meant to be one.
Against a backdrop of screens that played moments of some of the most beloved video games of all time, VGL is less a concert and more a celebration of all things video game. A modern-day gesamtkunstwerk for video game enthusiasts, VGL is a multimedia event that is arguably the climax of the E3 week.
It is not often that a symphony orchestra meets with a crowd cheering wildly in approbation. But the Golden State Pops Chorus and Orchestra enjoyed just that, where they played under the direction of Wataru Hokoyama, best known as the composer for the games “Afrika” (PS3) and “Resident Evil 5” (PS3, 360), who conducted most of the program.
Interspersed with the musical performances were videos of goofy video game humor and live video game competitions between audience members. “Guitar Hero” may just be a game, but few real bands are ever swamped with the sheer collective joy that the audience showered on the kid striving to beat a “Guitar Hero” challenge set by VGL creator and host Tommy Tallarico. Top it off with a surprise wedding proposal on-stage and you have an event of … well, epic proportions.
But the music is the unifying force here and there was no disappointment in that department. Martin Leung, the “Video Game Pianist,” brought the house down and the audience to its feet in a medley of Super Mario Bros. themes that he proceeded to pound out energetically and flawlessly – all while blindfolded.
“This guy is sick! Just look at him – this is so sick!” yelled an audience member to his girlfriend. After dashing off his medley, Leung proceeded to play a rhapsodically fantasy based on themes from “The Legend of Zelda,” but arranged in the style of Chopin. Though not too much Chopin was heard (however the riff that opens the famous “Miltary” Polonaise kept creeping up at intervals), it was entertaining just the same.
Or how about the mini-oratorio based on the music of Tetris that was one of the show’s closing numbers? How a game with no plot whatsoever could be converted into an oratorio is beyond me, but VGL did it and did so with aplomb.
Deeply moving was the show’s closer, a suite of pieces from Yasunori Mitsuda’s music for “Chrono Trigger” (SNES) and “Chrono Chross” (PS1). Moving not only for the music itself, but the reaction it inspired in the audience. Turning to see where the source of this howling sound was coming from, I was faced with a guy in his mid-20s, bedecked with a neck beard, weeping inconsolably as his friend patted him on the back as Mitsuda’s music swept over us.
A special surprise was also had by way of the arrival of Kinuyo Yamashita on organ and piano playing the work she is best known for, the music of the original “Castlevania” (NES, MSX).
“We’re here today to show the world how culturally significant video games are,” announced host Tallarico at the start of the show.
No doubt about it – VGL is just another manifestation that video games are an emerging modern art form.