Video Games Live
6 p.m. gaming events, 8 p.m. concert, Thu., April 1
Tickets $24-$70 (including fees)
Tommy Tallarico is on a mission. For five years, he and fellow composer Jack Wall have toured the world with Video Games Live, a high-octane extravaganza that carefully synchronizes live symphonic music, Broadway-style staging, audience participation, and the kinds of visual effects normally reserved for the most expensive and elaborate rock shows. Why all this fuss over music created for video games? "I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become," Tallarico says. "And it's really powerful and emotional music. People don't expect that."
Video Games Live pulls into the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner on Thursday, but it isn't just another tour stop. The show will be shot in hi-def for broadcast on PBS in July and release on DVD and Blu-Ray. Tallarico expects the total audience for this one performance to eventually exceed 50 million people. The show features new sets and effects, and Tallarico has invited special guests like Ralph Baer, the 88-year-old "father of video games." Baer will challenge an audience member to a game on his "brown box," the first video game system, which he started developing in 1966. Winners of a pre-show costume contest and Guitar Hero challenge will also be featured.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the music composed by Tallarico (Earthworm Jim, Advent Rising) and Wall (Myst, Mass Effect) and others — for games including Halo, Blizzard and God of War. This approach exposes young gamers to live symphonic music while legitimizing video games in the realm of high culture. "Normally these orchestras play Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky, and now they're playing Mario, Sonic and Halo. No matter where we go, it's young people dragging their parents to the symphony. That's something new in the history of music. Even in the time of Mozart, it was the wealthy upper class that went to the symphony. We like to break all those molds."
Three long years of mold-breaking preceded the debut of Video Games Live, but Tallarico says the show's real genesis was much earlier. While growing up in the late 1970s, Tallarico used to take his father's cassette deck to the arcade and record video game music, then come home and record sounds from his Atari and Apple II. He spliced them together on tape. "I'd invite my friends over and charge them a nickel to put video games on my TV and play the cassette," Tallarico says. "And I'd grab a broomstick and pretend I was playing the music. I've got the pictures to prove it."
Tallarico also had another inspiration: His older cousin is Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler (formerly Steven Tallarico). He grew up watching Aerosmith from the side of the stage and dreamed of his own career in music. "It never seemed an impossible dream," Tallarico says. "If Steven can do it, why not me? Our grandfathers came over from Italy and had a band together. We always say it's in the DNA."