Game Music

Distant Worlds San Francisco: Ohhh Mariaaa!

July 22, 2009 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Distant Worlds San Francisco: Ohhh Mariaaa!on Twitter

I can’t believe it took me this long to see a Distant Worlds show. I guess it’s not really my fault, since AWR Music Productions is based out of Chicago and has pretty much ignored the west coast up until now. This past weekend, however, they were in San Francisco (one of my favorite cities in the world), and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to both see the show and meet Nobuo Uematsu face-to-face.

In case you’re wondering, yes, we did interview Uematsu-san. For an entire day, basically. You’ll have to wait for the interviews (yes, plural), but we wanted to get our impressions of the show up as quickly as possible. I’ll say right out that if you liked Dear Friends, you’re going to love Distant Worlds, as it’s pretty much the same concept with some new (and sometimes improved) arrangements.

Some interesting stuff happened at the show, so you’ll want to check out our report after the jump.

So, to start off, the trip there. The first thing I’m greeted by when I get off the plane and leave the terminal to find a shuttle is the same exact driver who drove me to the airport when I was in San Francisco for GDC. I don’t remember if I ever told that story, but she and I had stopped for lunch because I was the only passenger, and we had some good Vietnamese food, so I was really surprised to see her again. I knew it must have been fate that had brought us together again, so we exchanged contact info and I decided that she’d be my San Francisco van driver from that day forward.

Another thing before I get into the music is the hall. I’ve never been to the Davies Symphony Hall, as all the game music concerts I’ve been to in San Francisco have been in the Masonic Center on Nob Hill. The Davies Symphony Hall is pretty stunning, with hanging glass sheets that are suspended from the ceiling, and multi-tiered balconies all around the venue. It’s a site to behold, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in town.

[See the pretty glass panels that are dangling from the ceiling?]

Now on to the music. There were some unique circumstances this time around, but let me start with the set list:

1. “Liberi Fatali”
2. “Victory Fanfare”
3. “To Zanarkand”
4. “Don’t be Afraid”
5. “Aerith’s Theme”
6. “Medley 2002”
7. “Dear Friends”
8. “Vamo’ alla Flamenco”
9. “Ronfaure”
10. “Final Fantasy”


11. “Opening-Bombing Mission”
12. “Theme of Love”
13. “Swing de Chocobo”
14. “Man With The Machine Gun”
15. “Love Grows”
16. “Opera ‘Maria and Draco’”
17. “Terra’s Theme”

Encore: “One Winged Angel”

So, the first point of interest was that the San Francisco Choir was somehow unavailable for the performance, as they were on some kind of break. This meant no “Fisherman’s Horizon,” which is my favorite piece in the Distant Worlds catalog. While I was quite heartbroken, I was curious to see how they’d be handling “Liberi Fatali” and “One Winged Angel” without the choir.  I got an answer fairly quick, as four opera singers took to the stage to form a sort of “mini-choir.” An interesting idea for sure, and I was anxious to hear how it’d turn out.

It was then on to the music. First up was “Liberi Fatali,” the first test of the evening for this new “mini-choir.”  While I enjoyed this format because it allowed each performer to express their own individuality, the mix wasn’t quite right, and the alto and bass were sort of lost. Also, the giant projector hovering over the stage immediately became a distraction as the footage on the screen wasn’t matching the content of the music at all. Towards the climax of “Liberi Fatali” where the singers go through doing their final “FITHOS LUSEC WECOS VINOSEC” bit, the screen showed a scene of Squall and Rinoa reaching out to each other before embracing. Yeah, kind of odd!

Next up, Arnie Roth grabbed the mic to say a few words, noting that Nobuo Uematsu would be scoring the Final Fantasy XIV soundtrack, and introducing a large block of upcoming pieces. Before that, however, he decided to lead the orchestra in playing the series classic “Victory Fanfare,” which lasted for an entire 5 or so seconds, but was completely amazing. It got a good laugh from the audience.

“To Zanarkand” is a really beautiful piece of music, and the pianist was spot on with his performance. No complaints from me on this one, and the video was actually matched quite well. It’s interesting that while you can hear these songs time and time again, they take on a different character based on the video accompaniment. After that, the screen showed about 30 seconds of footage from Final Fantasy VIII (oddly in Japanese), with Squall running around the city before getting into a random encounter, at which point the orchestra started up “Don’t be Afraid.” This got another laugh, and of course, the piece was powerful and quite excellent.

“Aerith’s Theme” went off without a hitch, and the “Medley 2002” featured loads of Yoshitaka Amano’s artwork, which was a nice treat. I’ve seen a lot of his work, but they had some paintings I’d never seen before. They also relied mostly on FMV footage from Final Fantasy III on the DS, which was a nice touch.  Next up, “Dear Friends” and “Vamo’ alla Flamenco” were both quite painful, unfortunately. I love both of these songs, but the guitar soloist wasn’t really up to the task. He made a number of errors on “Dear Friends,” and simply couldn’t keep up with the fast-paced “Vamo’ alla Flamenco.” I was cringing at times, and felt really bad for him. Hopefully Shota and I were the only ones who noticed.

Final Fantasy XI’s “Ronfaure” was next, and boy, I love this piece. The footage was from the game’s intro sequence, and it worked wonderfully. The last track before the intermission was “Final Fantasy,” which is always pleasant, and always gets a reaction from the crowd. Again, however, the video was terribly out of place, with repeated footage used throughout and a strange scene where Rinoa tells Squall, “You’re the best looking guy here.” A heartwarming Final Fantasy moment for sure.

During the intermission, the symphony’s artist liaison tried his best to keep fans away from Uematsu, but he got overwhelmed at one point, as a semi-circle of fans formed in the aisle around his seat, and everyone on his opposite side stood up in their seats to snap photos. There was a no photo policy in the hall, but nobody seemed to care, and Uematsu actually appeared to be enjoying it.

It was then back to the music with a series of three excellent pieces in a row, although a scene where Kain betrays Cecil during “Theme of Love” caused Shota and I to exchange sideways glances. “Man With the Machine Gun” is a new piece in the Distant Worlds catalog, and I loved that they got ahold of a lot of Laguna footage to go with it. “Love Grows” featured a touching video accompaniment from the game’s ending where Laguna remembers his wife while standing over her grave.

Getting towards the end, the opera singers got back on stage for the opera scene. Interestingly, the soprano singer, Leah Crocetto, is a friend of Gideon Dabi’s, and man was her voice amazing. Unfortunately she was undermixed along with the mezzo-soprano, Christine Abraham, but she got a few moments in the spotlight during her “Maria” segments. “Terra’s Theme” closed out the evening proper, and aside from being a great piece of music, I really got a kick out of the on-screen credits that combined FFVI game footage with the Distant Worlds staff list.

But that wasn’t all.  No Final Fantasy concert is complete without “One Winged Angel.” It featured footage from FFVII: Advent Children, which gave the piece a nice fresh feel. Fans love this piece, so it was no surprise that they went wild before, during, and after the performance.  Oh, and on the topic of Advent Children, Distant Worlds really needs to pick up “Cloud Smiles.”  It’s such a great piece of music that nobody seems to care about anymore.

After the show, fans who shelled out an additional $110 were treated to a pretty snazzy afterparty at a nearby venue. All attendees received a copy of the Distant Worlds studio album signed by both Uematsu and Roth, as well as an endless stream of tasty appetizers. Uematsu and Arnie were on hand all night for signatures, pictures, and conversation, and it was a great chance to mingle and talk about the show.

Overall, I really enjoyed Distant Worlds, but frankly would prefer if they ditched the video and put up some footage of the orchestra and the soloists during their respective performances. Video can be a great accompaniment, but when it conflicts with the emotional content of the music, it’s just awkward. Aside from that, the guitar soloist and the mixing on the vocals could have been a lot better, but as an event for fans, the presence of Nobuo Uematsu along with some of the most iconic Final Fantasy themes being performed live can’t be ruined by a few mishaps. I’ve seen very few shows that have been absolutely perfect, so I’m willing to forgive and forget. I will look forward to the next time I’m around to see the show, however, as I do want to hear a live performance of “Fisherman’s Horizon,” and the new additions of “Dancing Mad” and “J-E-N-O-V-A” which are set to debut at the December performance in Chicago sound amazing. I recommend getting out to see it if it’s in a town near you.

Have you seen a Distant Worlds performance yet? What are your thoughts regarding video at these sorts of events?

[Photos taken by Shota Nakama.]

[Uematsu bathed in a holy white light as he announces “One Winged Angel.”]

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