The lights went down on the Wang Theater and up on the crowded stage. A conductor with a shock of white hair and a black jacket with large silver buttons took the podium and tapped the orchestra to life. A screen behind the orchestra lit up, displaying the parallel lines of Pong. The orchestra led us through a medley of video game themes over the first twenty years of gaming history – Pong, Donkey Kong, Elevator Action, Burger Time, etc – while those same classics played nostalgically across the screen: the opening act of Video Games Live‘s debut in Boston.
Then some asshole in red shoes showed up.
I can not overstate how much of a douchebag Tommy Tallarico is. I humored him patiently for the first five minutes he showed up, until I realized that he intended to spend another five minutes talking up himself and his show. His ham-handed attempts to win over the crowd annoyed me further. “Some people think video games are just for kids,” the forty-year old mocked, summoning a mighty “BOO” from the crowd in a way that Ric Flair would wince at. “Some people think video games cause violent behavior.”
(“Some people live in houses filled with strawmen,” I murmured)
Video Games Live is a gem. Its music appeals on several primal levels – from the nostalgia of childhood classics being played beautifully to the epic awe of today’s million-dollar soundtracks. VGL uses entirely local musicians – the City Arts Orchestra on stage and the Brookline High Choir for vocals. They covered a broad sampling of games, from the Mario and Zelda series to releases as recent as the new World of Warcraft expansion. I’m glad Melissa made sure we went, and I’m glad Serpico, RJ and Katie H were there with me.
I just need to stress how much Tommy Tallarico sucked. He served no purpose other than to leech energy out of the show. That might have actually been his role – stretching a 70 minute show to 2 hours with a lot of talk. I don’t know why, though. They have more material than they played. I only hope that, as the show becomes more monetized, corporate pressure fills the time with more music and less of that jackass.
(Seriously – playing your game’s score with a professional orchestra while cut scenes flash in the background? It’s a commercial people pay to see. Win-win!)
I won’t spoil all the show’s little surprises, but I have to pass this one along: the winner of a Guitar Hero battle in the lobby before the show got called on stage in the second act. Tallarico handed him a Guitar Hero controller. “If you get over 200,000 points in ‘Sweet Emotion’ on Hard …” he began. The kid shook his head, motioning upward with his thumb. “Expert?” Tallarico asked. The audience roared.*
I’ve been quieter at close football games than I was watching that guy blow through Guitar Hero. The live orchestra backing him made it an epic spectacle. Plus, the tension of competing against the game transformed the song from a rock staple to a pitched battle. Imagine if Joe Perry broke every finger on his left hand, then going to see Aerosmith’s first live concert after they’d healed – will he pull it off? will he be as good as we hoped? That, plus lasers.
After VGL, Katie H. gave me a ride to Central Square. I headed toward ImprovBoston, only to find Dana already walking down the block. “You heading to Phoenix Landing?” he asked. “Robert just texted me; he said the place is packed.”
We found ourselves jogging to get there, one of those unspoken decisions born of enthusiasm. You live a buttoned-down life during the week, so when the opportunity comes to shake it out and perform in front of friends and strangers, you don’t want to waste a second in transit. And that’s what we do when we dance. We threaded our way through the crowd to the foot of the stage. Dana immediately leaped onto the benches that surround the dance floor and began attracting attention. That’s what he does.
After a while I joined him.
* This led to that classic exercise in futility, Changing The Settings In Guitar Hero. Anyone who’s played GH or Rock band knows how frustrating it gets when you’ve almost started the song but want to change one thing – the number of players, the difficulty, etc. Now imagine doing that on a stage in front of two thousand people. “You have to back all the way out!”, I yelled from the back of the balcony. “Main menu! Main menu!”