I Watched the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra Perform the Pokémon Soundtrack in Full
The worst performance ever? Or a mind-blowing experience? I went to a show in London to find out.
I’m in the Eventim Apollo in West London, surrounded by more than three thousand screaming fans. Some are near tears. A couple bellow "I LOVE YOU!" But the group of people this outpouring of emotion is being directed at aren’t One Direction or even the Foo Fighters. They’re the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra – plus conductor Susie Benchasil Seiter and creative director Jeron Moore – and they’re about to play a two-hour orchestral arrangement of the music from the Pokémon Nintendo games. It's mayhem.
Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions – whose mascot is a ridiculously cute Pikachu in black tie waving a conductor’s baton – has been touring the US for over a year and finally made its UK debut last Sunday. Unsuspecting commuters driving through Hammersmith may well have assumed there was an anime convention nearby (or might have just been thinking: "What the fuck?"), as legions of gamers aged anywhere from 16 to 50 thronged outside the venue in varying states of Pokémon cosplay ecstacy.
"It's just a big part of my childhood, all the music from the games – the 8-bit music and the anime show – and to hear it done properly with a full orchestra is just something I couldn’t resist," explains Dave, who has come with a group of friends and is dressed like Pikachu, if Pikachu had been an eccentric scientist in a Steven Spielberg film. "It can be quite emotional actually because you’ve got all these memories tied up in it, and then you hear the music and it unlocks all those memories of you playing from years and years ago and it all comes together to a very powerful feeling".
Dave isn’t the only one riding the nostalgia train all the way to Kanto. Most people I speak to have been playing since they were children, and have come clutching GameBoys (which they sit and tap at before the show starts and during the interval) and plush Pokémon toys. Obviously Pikachu is the most popular (OK, confession time, I brought one too) and I’ve seen one woman wielding a Magikarp that was so cumbersome she must have purchased its own seat.
"I’ve been to Zelda, Final Fantasy, Video Games Live’" says 24-year-old Chloe, reeling off a list of previous classical concerts she’s been to. She's come as the little known Meowstic, and is also holding a plush. "It's just amazing," she explains, "it takes you totally back to the game, you remember that moment, where you were, exactly what happened, and just orchestra music is fantastic and to hear your favourite soundtracks in an orchestra is awesome."
To be fair to them, it is. Don't get me wrong, clapping politely during a symphony concert for two hours isn’t usually my idea of a big night out, but Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions discards any classical pretenses and conducts everything with a tongue lodged so hard in its cheek it's almost piercing. For a start, there’s a huge screen above the orchestra showing pre-recorded game play, and though that might sound dross, watching the more hardcore fans' reactions to this footage is a whole strand of entertainment of its own. There was a visceral wave of anticipation through my entire row when the cursor simply selected "begin new game" and some of the dialogue boxes – with their quirky Japanese to English translations – resulted in floods of hysterical laughter. Audience participation was actively encouraged, from the cheering and whooping at the end of each piece to the singalong at the end, where lyrics were flashed across the screen.
Then, of course, there was the music itself. Can you really transform chiptune melodies into fleshed out symphonies without losing everything that was so charmingly lo-fi about them in the first place? Orchestrated by Chad Seiter (based on the music composed by Junichi Masuda) and performed by a 78-piece orchestra, the answer is basically: yes.
Even for the most hardened Pokemon player, there was something quite poignant about watching 3,600 fans – male and female – sing the theme song to the TV series at the end (imagine a packed out Apollo booming emotionally: "Pokemon, oh, you're my best friend"), especially in a post-GamerGate era. For Beth, 20, who’d come with some mates, the experience was genuinely emotional. "It was just absolutely amazing," she said, with a huge smile on her face. "I was just left in tears." We all were Beth. We all were.
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