Video Games Live in Toronto

Music, Video Games

I’d heard from friends and other video game enthusiasts that Video Games Live was a fantastic experience and well worth going out of your way to see. Unfortunately, life got in the way when they came to Montreal a few months ago, but yesterday I was given a second chance. They were putting on a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, no more than a hour or two away from my current residence in Waterloo. I thought I’d do a little recap of the evening’s events, and hopefully convince you to check them out if they’re playing near you.

The show was scheduled to start at 8:30, but we got there at 7 to ensure a good spot (it was a free show after all.) There were Wii and Xbox 360 stations set up for people to play, as well as a Guitar Hero competition that went on throughout the day. There were a few cosplayers, including a troupe of Jedis and a dude in a fantastic Phoenix Wright costume. There were also hordes of people playing DS while they waited, so it was a good opportunity for me to take advantage of The World Ends With You‘s mingle mode feature.

Video Games Live

Before the main event, the two finalists of the Guitar Hero competition were invited to play a final match on the unreleased Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, playing the Run-D.M.C. cover of “Walk This Way.” The winner got a free copy of the game, and an Xbox if I recall correctly. They also had a costume competition, and someone in a pretty good Kid Icarus costume won (Phoenix Wright was robbed! Objection!)

Once conductor Jack Wall bounded onto the stage in an outfit that would make Ian Anderson proud, the show began with a medley of arcade music. Accompanying it were short video clips of the games in question, as is the formula of the entire show. The crowd loved it, often shouting out the names of their favourite games as they appeared on screen. I would say that there were approximately forty musicians on stage, including a full choir and two or three solo opera vocalists.

Host Tommy Tallarico then took the stage, telling the crowd a little about the history of Video Games Live and the programme for the evening. Apparently they have roughly forty different game sets prepared, but only play fifteen or so every show. He also explained that they employed local musicians, which I thought was rather commendable.

Video Games Live

The next set featured music from the Metal Gear Solid series, which included an audio introduction by David Hayter and a video foreword by Hideo Kojima. As the music played an MGS guard walked across the stage, pursued by a cardboard box. When he became suspicious, an exclamation mark appeared over his head and the band began to play the “warning” music. It was terrific fun.

This was followed by music from God of War, Final Fantasy, Sonic, Mario, Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Myst, Metroid, Civilization IV, and World of Warcraft. There were several solo performances by Martin Leung, of blindedfolded piano YouTube fame. They also included two small contest segments. The first pit the winner of the Guitar Hero competition against Space Invaders, with a motion sensing shirt that had him running across the stage to control his ship. Unfortunately the controls were sloppy at best, and he was eliminated very quickly. The second had two contestants randomly chosen from the crowd go head-to-head at Frogger, with the orchestra playing music for their game in real time.

Video Games Live

The show lasted approximately two and a half hours, with a 20 minute intermission. They played the music from Halo for the finale, with Tommy Tallarico picking up Steve Vai’s part on the guitar. The crowd, predictably, demanded an encore, so they came back out with Final Fantasy VII‘s “One Winged Angel.” Finally, they closed the show with the music of Castlevania, which was really terrific.

Video Games Live was a tremendous experience and I’m thrilled to have travelled out to see it. Beyond the show itself, it was just really nice to be among a crowd of fellow geeks, a sub-culture coming together to relive their experiences with video games. Whereas most “gatherings” of gamers greatly depress me (Xbox Live, Internet forums, etc.), watching hundreds of people waving their DSs and PSPs in the air to the Castlevania theme song truly warmed the cockles of my heart.

[Photos by Sam Javanrouh, who was standing next to me at the concert and very kindly released his pictures under Creative Commons.]

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6 Responses to “Video Games Live in Toronto”

  1. Violent Mike Says:
    June 23rd, 2008 at 12:34 am

    At the show I went to, the MGS bit was at the beginning, and Tommy came out of the box at the end. He made a joke that he was the only one small enough to fit in it. Did it surprise you to see how tiny he is?

  2. Dan Bruno Says:
    June 22nd, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Thanks for the write-up — sounds like a great time. If they really do come to Boston for a show, I’m there.

  3. Skrud Says:
    June 23rd, 2008 at 1:32 am

    Sounds like the same set I saw in Montreal in February. It was a fucking awesome show!

    (But I was pretty happy getting sunburned for 10 straight non-stop hours of heavy metal :D)

  4. Matthew Gallant Says:
    June 23rd, 2008 at 9:38 am

    @Dan: I’d highly recommend going, even if it’s a few hours out of your way.

    @Mike: He made the same joke with us, it was pretty funny. As for the size thing, I find it very difficult in general to figure out people’s proportions from a stage or on T.V. I mean, I wouldn’t have guessed that Conan O’Brian was 6’4″ either :P

    @Skrud: My only regret is that they didn’t play the Bioshock soundtrack, I would love to hear that live. The set that Maiden played at Heavy Mtl sounded awesome though, Rime of the Ancient Mariner ftw (all 18 minutes of it)!

  5. Ben Abraham Says:
    June 25th, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Wow, thanks for sharing your experience, Matthew. I went to a similar concert, “Play! A Videogame Symphony”, when it came to Sydney – and when they played some of the Cairo Suite from Halo 2… shivers down my spine. We had front row seats and everything! ^_^

    Unfortunately, it was no VGLive – there were no competitions, just the music anda bit less of a feeling of a gathering of ‘geeks’ – I think Aus is a bit behind Nth America in terms of gamer/non-gamer ratios. ;-)

    Still, I probably appreciated the gathering feeling it had most of all. Being there with ‘my people’ as it were. :P

  6. Matthew Gallant Says:
    June 25th, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    @Ben: The Halo set at VGL was one of the best, hearing the choir performing the monk chant live was incredible. The VGL website says an Australian concert date is TBA, for whatever that’s worth!

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