Live ZELDA Music: an Epic Win? - - OTAKU COMING HOME

Topic started by No_name_here on Dec. 10, 2012. Last post by NickTapalansky 1 year, 8 months ago.
Post by No_name_here (855 posts) See mini bio Level 11
Staff

Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...

It’s no secret that I take pride in my nerdy street cred. I write comics, have anime and video game-inspired tattoos, and my idea of a good time traveling includes eating everything in Japan. So it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that, two short weeks after landing back home, I found myself, my wife, and one of our best pals and nerdy traveling companions - - the extraordinary artist Kate Glasheen - - headed for the LEGEND OF ZELDA: SYMPHONY OF THE GODDESSES concert in New York City.

To prepare the night's festivities, I spent all day lifting every triangle in sight over my head (Dramatic recreation above).
To prepare the night's festivities, I spent all day lifting every triangle in sight over my head (Dramatic recreation above).

We made a brief dinner stop at Tabata Noodle on 9th Avenue (between 39th and 40th Street, for you New Yorkers in need of a ramen fix) before heading to Madison Square Garden. And believe me, there’s nothing better on a cold night of nerdery than a plate of wasabi shumai and a steaming bowl of tonkotsu broth with fatty pork, springy noodles and soy-marinated, soft boiled eggs. Nothing.

Our small-but-full-of-heart-(containers) group had no idea what to expect when we hit MSG. Would there be a large group? Did the show sell out? Would we be lost in a sea of green-skirted otaku? Lots of questions were on our collective mind. Know what we never once asked ourselves?

Would Justin Bieber be there?

And yet, the universe provided.
And yet, the universe provided.

The divided crowd entering MSG was pretty hysterical. Gaggles of teenaged girls and hapless parents in tow parting one way toward the arena whilst we nerds were herded into the theater. But other than that? Not a peep. The two events never interfered with one another after we parted ways.

We showed up a bit earlier than most, and grabbed our seats near the stage. Screens were set up on either side of the audience and dead center above the performers, each one emblazoned with a Triforce symbol. ZELDA soundtracks played softly behind the shuffling of excited fans finding their seats. We set about the difficult task of waiting by doing the only thing we could think of - - taking pictures of strangers to put on the internet!

Not your usual symphony crowd.
Not your usual symphony crowd.

Now is probably a good time to explain what giant ZELDA geeks all three of us are.

  • When we go on vacation to Maine together, we usually bring an NES or SNES to marathon a classic ZELDA game in the evenings.
  • When we get together at home, it usually devolves into a week-long attack on some JRPG... And when that doesn’t work, ZELDA goes into the system.
  • We often found ourselves debating the validity of a ZELDA timeline. And when an official one was released, there was no time wasted in dissecting and critiquing it.
  • When I was a kid, my mom used to play ZELDA. She once recorded a playthrough of her beating it. That tape spent a lot of time in my VCR. Obviously, nerdery runs in my veins.

And all of this is to explain why the following video, taken with my phone, is horribly shaky. You see, we couldn’t quite keep still once the music started. And though it isn’t the same as being there, perhaps this video of the opening (“Overture”) will help you understand why...

Now, I’m going to approach the rest of this in two very different ways...

The first is my emotional response. This is tethered to my love affair with video games, their music, and THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. The second is going to be my objective view of the show, because if I’m going to play journalist here, it requires me to be critical of the things I love just as much as anything else.

So, the emotional bit: HOLY SHIT.

Conducted by Eimear Noone (with music arrangement by Noone and legendary Nintendo composer, Koji Kondo!) this was ZELDA as you’ve never heard it before. The tour, conceived and promoted by Jason Michael Paul, was definitely a labor of love for both Noone and Paul. Noone told the audience that the music spoke to her, and it showed in both her arrangement and spirited conducting. Paul came out to introduce the separate parts of the symphony and showed his love by whipping out a gold LEGEND OF ZELDA cartridge for the NES. When “The Wind Waker” movement began, Noone traded her baton for a replica of the actual Wind Waker from the game!

These were some legit fans, no question.

Conductor/arranger Eimear Noone took a short break to chat us up before changing batons...
Conductor/arranger Eimear Noone took a short break to chat us up before changing batons...

The full setlist was as follows:

ACT I

  • Overture

INTERLUDES

  • Dungeons of Hyrule
  • Kakariko Village
  • Songs of the Hero (Ocarina Medley)

THE SYMPHONY

  • Prelude - The Creation of Hyrule
  • Movement I - Ocarina of Time
  • Movement II - The Wind Waker

ACT II

  • Intermezzo - Great Fairy's Fountain
  • Movement III - Twilight Princess
  • Movement IV - A Link to the Past
  • Finale

ENCORES

  • Gerudo Valley
  • Ballad of the Windfish
  • Majora’s Mask

For anybody who picked up SKYWARD SWORD, you’ve heard a bunch of these already, but it’s such an experience to see them performed live and accompanied by giant screens running cleverly timed and edited game footage. Either way, hearing those arrangements on CD or in person really drives home something astonishing: Koji Kondo is a brilliant composer! Even tracks designed to play on an 8-bit system sounded wonderful when arranged across an entire orchestra. Harps plink, cellos reverberate, and violins send you flying right onto Hyrule Field.

Masterfully composed by Kondo and brilliantly arranged with Noone, the symphony itself was ideal. I could quibble over a few missing elements, personal favorites and such, but they were sacrificed to keep the symphony focussed. This was no “greatest hits” concert; instead, it was a story told through song, and in that it succeeded, telling us the literal “Legend of Zelda,” as it were.

Disappointingly, there was no CD for sale at the show, so the 25th anniversary disc with SKYWARD SWORD, and my memories, will have to hold me over for now. Hopefully we’ll see some kind of CD/DVD combo down the road.

I wish the picture wasn't accurate, but it really did look less like a concert venue and more like a high school auditorium or college lecture hall. And ugh! The sound system...
I wish the picture wasn't accurate, but it really did look less like a concert venue and more like a high school auditorium or college lecture hall. And ugh! The sound system...

Now, for the hard part.

Nobody likes being critical of a loved one, but there were a number of critiques I walked out of the show with and, try as I might, I just couldn’t overlook them. The blame doesn’t fall squarely on one party but, rather, spreads evenly across pretty much everybody, including the audience.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden isn’t any place I’m in a rush to get back. Though there was ample seating, the acoustics were awful. I may not be a symphony buff, but I do fancy myself a bit of an amateur audiophile (which basically means I’m just picky about sound quality and don’t have the vocabulary to back it up yet). When you’re working with electric instruments at a typical rock or metal show, you’re plugged into amps to help pump the music out to the crowd. Most concert halls for symphonies are constructed such that no help is necessary - - the music is naturally carried through the venue by architectural design.

However, putting an orchestra on stage in a venue that wasn’t built for it meant hanging microphones near most of the instruments and blasting the sound out through giant speakers next to the stage. Not only was the music often riddled with clicks and pops from the equipment, but quiet solos were punctuated by the furious turning of sheet music by those not playing. It gave the impression that we were actually listening to a YouTube video at times rather than a live performance, which was a damn shame.

Look at this place! I feel I'm about to take a Defensive Driving class.
Look at this place! I feel I'm about to take a Defensive Driving class.

Also, a rock show is all about the stage performance, meaning even the most bland venue can be brought to life by energetic performers. This was not a rock show, and the venue looked and felt like a high school auditorium, despite the large screens. That might explain why the audience, aside from a few kinetic fans like my lil’ group, seemed like they were at a mandatory assembly rather than a Nintendo concert, where applause, cheers, and standing ovations weren’t just accepted but encouraged. They started strong at the opening, but after that... fizzle. The crowd really let me down here.

It didn’t help that we were seated next to a stereotypical otaku. We’re still not sure if he had a legitimate social disorder that kept him from showering and encouraged him to shout “HEY! LISTEN!” like Navi between most every song.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out some issues with the performance itself. While the Orchestra of St. Luke’s (NYC natives) acquitted themselves well enough, there was an inherent flaw in the system set up by this tour. Rather than traveling with an orchestra, who could refine and perfect a performance over the course of the tour, the symphony is performed by a different orchestra in each city.

As such, things like stage presence (these guys came out with their bags and purses, stuffing them under their chairs - - another nod to the high school atmosphere), performance mishaps (collapsing music stands, misplaced sheet music) and technical snafus (the video was missing for most of Kakariko Village, though that fault could lay with any number of people) took away from what could, and likely should have been a classy (if nerdy) production.

Perhaps it was too costly to tour with a dedicated group, or maybe the desire was to support local musicians, but at this show it seemed to be just another kink conspiring against an otherwise brilliant show.

Given how successful the tour has been, with most shows selling out pretty quickly, it’s at least possible we’ll see it come back around again and, when and if it does, I’ll be first in line to buy front row seats. Hopefully, they’ll learn from some of the mishaps and missteps, but even if it were the same issue-riddled show at the same terrible venue, I’d still show up with a smile on my face.

Because when the music starts, none of that other stuff matters. I’m connected to a special place, and a lot of special times, as soon as that first familiar chord leaps from the string section. Fond memories, old and new, come to life on the screens and in my mind. And, for two-and-a-half-hours, I get to live in a Hyrule that isn’t in my living room.

That’s worth every rupee.

Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.

Post by EamonBDoc (11 posts) See mini bio Level 6

I love legitimate Theatre.

Post by NickTapalansky (63 posts) See mini bio Level 9
Staff

@EamonBDoc: ^^ Like.

Post by sickVisionz (4,263 posts) See mini bio Level 24
Moderator

I wish I was more into Zelda. I have like two experiences with it

  1. Playing the NES game when I was five and whacking a bush to discover something hidden in it. I then whacked 10 more bushes and didn't find anything and turned it off because, "you have to whack all the bushes, but most of them won't even have stuff in them? And there's like hundreds of them?"
  2. My friend had a SNES and rented that Zelda game. I played it for about 20 minutes before realizing that it was probably pretty good but it was a bad choice as a game for two people to play. We ended up playing some Star Fox and Killer Instinct instead.
Post by takashichea (11,963 posts) See mini bio Level 25
Moderator

Great article! Wish I can have the authentic experience.

Zelda music really got me as a kid. I love the games, and the music is so memorable. Though, the later games past Wind Waker became kind of forgettable. I want to bash the series, but the music wasn't deep like the classic N64 games. I only played all of the game from N64 and onwards except for handheld games. The only old game I played was Link to the Past.

My two favorite theme songs was Saria and Song of Storms.

Post by Petiew (244 posts) See mini bio Level 14
I've never been a huge fan of Zelda but one thing I always really liked about them was the music. Aside from some of the technical and crowd issues it sounds like it was a good experience.
Post by NickTapalansky (63 posts) See mini bio Level 9
Staff

@sickVisionz: As a kid, my friends and I tended to play multiplayer games together even though, separately, we would play RPGs, so I totally get that. At some point in my teens we started pulling that together by passing the controller, helping solve puzzles, and generally nerding out about the worlds, characters, and stories. Somehow, that's what stuck when I became an adult. I can tell you about the epic January of 2010, when me, my wife, and two of our best friends (the ones who came to Japan with us this year) were trapped by a week's worth of ice storms and blizzards. A weekend of hangout turned into a week, and we decided to tackle CHRONO CROSS as a team. It was tons of fun.

Also, I actually laughed out loud when I read your comment about the disappointing bushes! So true.

@takashichea: I dunno, I really like the music in TWILIGHT PRINCESS and SKYWARD SWORD! Though honestly, my true love runs deepest for the older games. It amazed me how well those held up when translated and arranged to a full symphony from the original 8 and 16-bit compositions.

If you have the chance you should totally give the older games a try, and not just for the music. I don't know exactly how they'll hold up if you didn't grow up with them, but I think if you dig the series you might get a kick out of playing 'em. Like the music, the first three are pretty much my faves (though I think I catalog them in a separate area of my passion for ZELDA since they were a part of my much younger years whereas OCARINA OF TIME and beyond were part of my teens and adulthood).

@Petiew: Yeah, totally. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, even if it wasn't a perfect presentation. Great music and, overall, fun times!

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