VIDEO GAMES LIVE!

Fire and Ice. Bush & Osama. Oil and Water. Gamers and Symphony Orchestra. Some of these things just don't go together. So in terms of the latter, what kind of depraved diabolical evil geniuses could manage to form an uneasy alliance between slacker video game addicted nerds (no offense!) and classy uppercrust classical musicians? The answer my friends, is Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall.

Tallarico and Wall, both highly successful videogame composers, have been working insanely hard over the last four years to bring these two diametrically opposed audiences together for one special evening. The final result is Video Games Live! a two hour knock your socks off event featuring a live symphony orchestra, a huge video monitor and rock concert lighting production. The concept is simple and altogether brilliant: while video of your favorite videogames play onscreen, the symphony brings the music to life right before your very ears (and eyes). If that sounds like something that would be right up your alley, you're damn right! I saw the show last night in Vancouver and it was spectacular.

Conducted by Wall, the symphony orchestra imported from Seattle, WA started off at gamings humble beginnings providing the "soundtrack" to Pong, while the familiar black and white game played on the huge screen displayed at center stage. From there, a video montage was displayed of some of early gamings classic moments - Space Invaders, Missile Command, Joust, Tempest, Centipede, Frogger - while the symphony provided snippets of the various musical themes found within the golden era of gaming.

Gamers of all ages (wives, mothers, boys, girls, dads, teenagers, grandparents) were instantly all on common ground as they delighted in the sights and sounds of gaming past and present over the two hour show (with an intermission). There was something for everyone at last nights show as the symphony played through a wide selection of some of gamings most popular music including - Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, Sonic the Hedgehog, Warcraft, God Of War, Myst, Donkey Kong, Kingdom Hearts, The Legend of Zelda, Halo, Advent Rising and fan favorite - the godfather of gaming himself - Super Mario.

Laughter and applause erupted constantly throughout the evening as fans cheered for their favorite themes brought to life by the incredibly talented orchestra whom we were told provides the majority of orchestral soundtracks found in gaming today. No wonder they were so kick ass. There's something you'll never hear. "Hey, your orchestra really kicked ass!" But I'll tell you, that was on the tongue of everyone in attendance last night.

From a technical perspective, what the musicians and the production team managed to pull off live was simply incredible. Imagine for a moment, having only one chance to perform complicated musical arrangements complete with tempo and time signature changes - okay, symphony orchestras do this all the time. But now imagine having to do that while playing in time to the onscreen action with full lighting production! The musical cues were bang on in sync with the video and lighting effecst and I didn't witness a missed beat in the entire production. As a gamer I was blown away, as a musician I was completely in awe. The Video Games Live! team (musicians, coordinators, technical) earned a well deserved standing ovation at the end of the evening.

As you might imagine it would be impossible to please everyone and certain "heavyhitters" were missing in action in last nights repertoire such as Final Fantasy, Metroid, Street Fighter II, Splinter Cell, Ridge Racer etc. I'm sure it's a legal nightmare to obtain the permissions from some of these companies to perform their music so let's just leave it at that. If VGL continues and gains more mainstream locomotion, I'm sure game publishers and developers would be ectastic about the free publicity that a show like VGL could provide.

Video introductions from gaming icons such as Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid), Yuji Naka (Sonic the Hedgehog) and Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros. & The Legend of Zelda) thrilled the crowd almost as much as hearing their favorite tunes played live. These gentlemen are as "rockstar" as you get in the gaming biz.

The show was peppered with intros and seques via host Tallarico, who seemed completely at ease for someone who is shouldering a ton of responsibility for the entire production. It's easy to tell that this is a labor of love for Tallarico, Wall and Marketing Coordinator Becky Young and they are passionate about the finished product. But make no mistake it takes a phenomenal amount of blood, sweat and tears to pull off a seemingly flawless production like Video Games Live!.

Some very cool extras throughout the evening included a costume contest managed by the talented Young - I dressed as Mario and managed to make into the top 3! So many great costumes last night - Dr. Mario, Solid Snake (from Snake Eater), Rikku, Link, Chun Li, Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) and a whack of FF characters. My thanks to Jeff (Link), Lee and Sheila for letting me hang with them so I didn't look like a complete ass. There was also a Live Frogger competition between a randomly selected 12 year old boy and a woman, complete with the orchestra playing the Frogger theme music live while the two played for 90 seconds each with the winner leaving with a $4000 laptop (hope the kid enjoys it!), a meet and greet with various industry personnel including Wall, Young and Tallarico, Bungie, EA and Nintendo. Of course, what video game event would be complete without a heaping helping of merch. Last nights merch included game soundtracks, posters and VGL hats, shirts and CD holders. I bought my boy a Zelda poster (which he LOVED!) and some hats and shirts to give away in a CCC contest. Methinks they'll go very quickly.

So after all of that good stuff, what could possibly be a downer about VGL? Unfortunately Tallarico and company had to cancel the rest of the 2005 tour due to slow ticket sales which included dates in the US and Canada. Understandably, fans who bought tickets (and were provided refunds) were disappointed by the announcement, but imagine for a moment the heartbreak that's going on with the VGL team right now. The show I saw last night took an incredible amount of work - four years to be precise - and it obviously wasn't an easy decision. On the VGL website the team has announced that they are looking at continuing in 2006 but concentrating on one market at a time. That sounds like a solid, viable strategy and I think it could work. As I said at the outset, "symphony orchestra" and "gamers" don't naturally go together - but if there is a sliver of hope it's the simple fact that some marketing genius out there managed to bring together "church" and "brocolli" and sold the animated childrens show Veggie Tales to millions. If kids can swallow Veggie Tales, surely gamers everywhere should be falling over themselves to witness Video Games Live!.

That's where you, the millions of CCC visitors come in. Video Games Live! is unlike anything you've ever seen before and it's an event that is fun for the entire family. It's two hours of video game entertainment at its finest and your eyes nor your thumbs will get sore! You need to get onto their website at www.videogameslive.com and start stirring up interest for your area, especially if you live in a major city. Get on forum boards, emails, MSN, run naked through an NFL game with a VGL banner stapled to your ass (remember it MUST be stapled, or it doesn't count). Just do something. You need to see this show.

With successes under their belt in Los Angeles, Seattle and Vancouver, VGL is NOT a fluke. These are sold out shows were talking about here. If VGL fails to continue, videogame fans everywhere have only themselves to blame for allowing an event this unique to slip away. All we talk about is the need for innovation in this industry and then when something truly revolutionary is presented, the majority of gamers run away in favor of something more familiar. What would you rather do? Pay $50 to see another Blink 182 soundalike band, rip through a 45 minutes (tops!) of the same three chords while shouting at you to hate everything? Or pay that cash towards something that will literally blow your mind? It's your call.

My hat is off to the VGL team. You've literally shown me something I've never seen before and I would not hesitate to see again. Bravo!

By Vaughn