If you happen to live in Sweden, in any of the listed cities on the official website, buy tickets to Gamers X-Mas right this moment. The concert is well worth your money in every way you look at it. I am telling you this in the opening paragraph as the show is filled with various surprises that I cannot do justice simply by telling you about. This is something that needs to be seen live, and so this post will be for people who are unable to go, or have already gone.
“But wait”, you shout at the top of your lungs, your head dashing closer to your monitor as sweat darts from your forehead. “I came here to read, and be enlightened!” Either that or you said something about being unable to go, or possibly even that you need further conviction. It’s very hard to hear you. Where are you even calling from?
Anyway, what follows will be my thoughts on the concert. Beware of spoilers, I guess. Call it a review, call it a rambling, call it a third noun beginning with an ‘r’ – here it is.
Pictured: Best image I could find
Trying to properly formulate the experience of Gamers X-Mas – sitting in a professional venue listening to a band called Level Up! play covers of videogame music in front of videogame footage while you’re surrounded by fans like yourself wearing shirts decorated with red mushrooms and green pipes, or in a few cases full-on princess dresses – is quite the challenge. It was one of the most hospitable environments I can recall ever setting foot in, and the fact that the people on stage seem to be able to look into your mind, dig around for requests for music, shrug and say “We know that one” only further solidifies that feeling.
Level Up! consists of two pianists, a flutist, a vocalist, a guitarist, a violinist, and a percussionist. Perhaps the best parts of the concert were the songs where the instrumentation really shone – the folk and Celtic style of Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack was represented very faithfully, Ocarina of Time might be the most obvious soundtrack of choice for a flutist to play out of any videogame (For good reason), and I’m having a very hard time going back to Spark Man’s theme without the melody being performed on a violin.
The vocal songs are also very much worth noting in that Level Up! chose some very difficult songs to perform, and yet after walking out from the venue and hearing their take on it I now find the official version of Calling to the Night downright underwhelming. The energy and tonal accuracy present in those songs is potent and very majestic.
And then they played the ending theme from God Hand.
Where do I even begin with that?
It was a bombastic concoction of the surprise factor, humour, fan service, and wide variety of sounds that Level Up! had been making good use of through the preceding hour, all in a single song.
It was my favourite part of the whole night.
Not all of the choices for songs were to my liking, however. They may have gone a little bit overboard with the fan service at times. I am sick and goddamn tired of hearing Dr Wily’s Castle being played by every videogame cover band that has ever existed (There’s so much other material from that series to choose from!), but seeing as it was a small part of a long and impressive Mega Man medley made for fans that aren’t as cynical as I, its inclusion only makes sense and doesn’t bother me. Not including it would probably be met by torches and pitchforks by the audience.
The problem instead lies in how that particular song was twice as long as it needed to be, and in my opinion should have been. It was looped at least once (my mind’s a little foggy on that part), and even though they tried newer things in the second half of it, it just wasn’t enough for me, so the medley as a whole slowed down quite a bit in that one song. (An alternate title for this post could have been “Attn videogame cover bands: I hate Wily’s Castle!”, but I honestly don’t!)
This issue arose for me again as they played a Zelda medley. Zelda’s Lullaby is very, very beautiful, and their performance of it was nothing short of spectacular, but that one song must have taken up more than half of that medley. It was far too long, and because of this the emotion and nostalgia I felt from the song started fading away somewhere shortly previous to the Lost Woods theme. Then they played Zelda’s Lullaby a second time. This led to that the medley which could very well have been the highlight of the show for me ended up as a disappointment, despite flawless performance.
Then there’s the part where they something from Silent Hill Homecoming. I remember very little from that song other than thinking that it was a very weird, fairly poor choice for a song. There’s nothing wrong with Silent Hill’s music, but I can’t imagine anyone having any sort of attachment to Homecoming’s soundtrack. I can’t remember a single note, but I do remember thinking that they at least performed it well.
Not that my nitpicking matters – Gamers X-Mas is in the end a success in every sense of the word. I haven’t even covered everything that went down, from the PC-game medley, to some of the more modern stuff such as Persona 4, to the references to Swedish Christmas television (yes, really). I eagerly await Level Up!’s next move, and so should you. Until then I will only have the memories.