Monday, April 28, 2008

The Anti-Intellectuals

Saturday night, I went to see this thing called "Video Games Live" with David and Jenny, who bought me a ticket months ago as a birthday gift.

On paper, it sounded like an easy barrel of laughs. A spectrum of video game music played by a full orchestra and chorus. Heard there might be some live onstage videogaming, scored on the fly. They had a retro-hipster logo mascot that I approved of:

Everything seemed on the up-and-up.

And the festivities started well enough. While people were still settling into their seats, they played this pitch-perfect little viral, of Ms. Pac-Man being chased by Inky, Pinky and Blinky around the streets of Manhattan (guess they couldn't afford an orange "Clyde" costume):

Yes, it's a video that's been around, but it set the right tone.

When the lights went out and the conductor stepped onstage to begin, everything still seemed promising. They began with footage of PONG which the orchestra did the blippy sound-effects for...

But as the montage began to show the progression of videogames, the orchestra actually began to play Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyries" instead of reinterpreting classic 8-bit music—which is what you would've assume the ENTIRE SHOW was gonna be about!

What's worse, this opening montage lasted only a few minutes before they STOPPED PLAYING and our host, Tommy Tallarico, stepped onstage.

Tommy Tallarico, if you didn't know, is an old-school videogame music composer. One of the first to get recognized for what he managed to do with such threadbare sound technology. Man's got a respectable 16-bit legacy.

And he quickly and efficiently killed the entire show.

Assuming that the audience might be intimidated by the formality of a big fancy orchestra, he encouraged everyone to hoop and holler and be as vocal as possible throughout.
FIRST OFF: That audience needed NO encouragement. A motley mix of very young and old, mostly "non-theater-going-types", the Beacon Theater resembled that scene from Gremlins, where all those little Attention-Deficit-Disordered monsters are packed into a theater watching "Snow White", only fleetingly able to pay attention when a hummable tune starts playing.

The anti-intellectual vibe throughout the room bordered on hostile. The audience could NOT shut the fuck up. People shouting out while the music was playing, while Tommy was talking—at ANY point they felt they could be heard. I've seen quieter audiences on Showtime at the Apollo.

As host, Tommy put into play the god-awful structure for the evening. Not a seamless flow of music but these montage tributes for specific videogames, regularly interrupted by Tallarico to ensure that all momentum was sufficiently killed before the evening progressed.

Worse yet, they steered clear of reinventing many old-school games, focusing on newer videogames. Of course, NEWER games already have full orchestral scores, which made much of the evening feel like watching videos on—welcome to DULLSVILLE.

Worst montage sequence? The one that didn't include any videogame footage. Yes, Tommy came out and introduced a special montage using music from Steven Spielberg's Medal of Honor videogame series... featuring World War II news reel footage. Yessir, nothing complements odes to Super Mario Brothers and Metroid better than Holocaust imagery.

How many idiots pooled their idiocy to conclude that this would be a good idea?

The show picked up when they brought this kid out:

Handily, Martin Leung stole the show from the full orchestra, which is just unconscionable.

But of course the fucking audience had to ruin EVEN THIS because the dumb dummy motherfuckers liked it so much... they felt compelled to CLAP ALONG to his playing!

Um... basic piano recital etiquette, anyone...?

Would've been one thing if he were playing a little folk ditty on a banjo, but the kid was constantly shifting the timing as he reinterpreted the music, so the audience's retarded 4/4-time CLAPPING kept fucking up what he was trying to create. Not to mention it was harder to hear him beneath the stupid wall of claps. (Have I mentioned that the audience was full of stupid people?)

I don't remember the last time I saw a live show so thoroughly poorly-conceived. There were some nice moments, but all were overshadowed by suckage. Tommy Tallarico, clearly a frustrated rocker, kept trying to rally cry the legitimacy of videogames as an art-form. I have got NO problems with that message. I'll be the first to defend videogames as an amazing form of art. But a show like this does more to support the argument that gamers are trapped in a marginalized ghetto and they don't get out much.

There's a band I've seen live called "The Minibosses":

A stripped-down rock band that just plays covers of old videogame music, here reworking the Super Mario Bros theme. No fireworks. No video montages or slideshows or special lighting. These guys put on a show so superior to the bloated ill-conceived mess of "Video Games Live". Neither pretentious and nor violently anti-intellectual.

Go see them. Better show, cheaper ticket.


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