I had no idea what to expect walking into Capcom Live, a video game musical experience unlike anything else I’ve ever witnessed.
Capcom Live was the last major event at Montreal’s Otakuthon 2018, held just before the closing ceremonies on Sunday. Because of some delays the concert actually ended up running into the final ceremonies, but not a single person in the audience was in any hurry to leave the surreal performance that was showcased before us. If there was ever a perfect way to end a phenomenal nerdy weekend, having my ears ring to the sounds of harmonized solos, powerful blast-beats, and melodic vocals was the way to go.
But perhaps more than that, it was the amalgamation of two of my absolute favorite things, juxtaposed in way that transcended one medium to present a wholly unique and captivating experience. The transition of video game soundtracks into the world of orchestral metal is such a fluid and seemingly obvious combination that when you hear it, you would naturally assume that they belonged together. A match made in Heaven — or perhaps in Capcom’s case more often in the bowels of Hell — and one that elevated the music of some of the best video games to a level that I’d never experienced before.
The more quintessential video game orchestras often cover the official soundtracks — as well as create their own renditions and medleys — of our favorite games, using the versatility of the multiple brass, woodwind, string, and percussive elements to evoke the power behind those melodies. While Capcom Live is part of the Video Game Orchestra (an exceptionally talented and versatile group out of Boston) their show elicited more of a rock-metal concert vibe than that of an orchestra, complete with face-melting solos, head-banging breakdowns, and a swelling crowd that almost became a mosh pit at one point.
Their arrangements were split into two distinct types: some of their songs were distinctive rock/metal covers of the soundtracks from series like Street Fighter or Monster Hunter, whereas others formed medleys encompassing a specific era or genre of game, like the fantastic journey through retro-Capcom that the band opened up with. The music began chronologically, starting with a nostalgic mix of the earliest era of Capcom hits from the NES/SNES systems, making their way through a veritable wealth of content in the span of just several minutes.
None of the songs were simply just replicated though; each had Capcom Live’s own distinct — and insanely metal — spin on it. Listening to ‘Never Surrender’ from Devil May Cry 4 gave me goosebumps, hearkening back to the narrative of the game with the lyrics eliciting the protagonists’ hope for the future. “My honored brethren, we come together to unite as one, against those who are damned. We show no mercy, for we have none. Our enemies shall fall, as we uprise.”
Just when I thought the hair on the back of my neck couldn’t stand up any more, they transitioned into one of the single most haunting tracks to ever be written for a video game: ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ from Resident Evil 7. I’ve never felt such primal fear from music before, with my own memories of the terrifying game flooding into my mind as I stood transfixed by lead vocalist Ingrid Gerdes as she sang “Go tell Aunt Rhody…that everybody’s dead.” I was luckily able to capture the majority of the song (apologies for the abrupt start) which perfectly captures the wonderfully unnerving feeling elicited by the performance. The song was originally a traditional French folk song that in the past had been performed by Burl Ives, which was re-imagined for the Resident Evil 7 soundtrack and then once again hauntingly re-developed for the live experience.
Singer Ingrid Gerdes‘ talent and voice were absolutely breathtaking, and her vocal range was put on full display at the concert. Since Capcom’s soundtracks are anything but typical, certain tracks required her to belt out throaty metal lyrics, and then almost immediately shift to terrifyingly sombre yet powerful tones. Just when you thought you had her range pegged down, she’d once again transition to operatic melodies that hit some extreme pitches. It was truly something to behold, as not many people can fully encompass such a broad range when singing.
She was by no means the only outstanding talent on stage, and each member of Capcom Live showed extreme prowess on their instruments and their ability to bring video game music to live with such on-stage passion. The harmonized solos between the lead guitar Masato Itoh and bassist Louis Ochoa were expertly composed, and the chemistry between the two was brilliant as they jumped around the stage and shredded up and down fret boards alongside one another. As anyone who’s listened to orchestral metal knows that these solos wouldn’t be complete without the ‘ivory’, and Capcom Live’s lightning-quick Livan tore up and down the keys with a ferocity I didn’t think was possible on a keyboard.
I was not able to obtain the name of the rock-violinist who joined Capcom Live for the show, but it was the perfect orchestral compliment to the gain of the rock tones, with the power of the strings hearkening me back to experiences that I’d had with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. All of this was of course elevated by the power of Blaize Collard‘s backing drum beats, which reverberated through my bones on numerous occasions and were on par with any of the metal shows I experienced in my earlier days.
It was pure raw talent, which was compounded by the clear and ever-present passion that was on display from each of the members. At one point the band took a break, and the bassist Louis (assuredly the personality of the group) took a moment to discuss the importance of elevating video game music to new levels, showing fans and the uninitiated alike the sheer skill behind many video game soundtracks. As someone who grew up as a metal-head — and obviously a gamer — this really struck a chord with me. Pun, assuredly intended.
Similar to acts like the Video Game Orchestra and Distant Worlds, the musical performance was coupled with videos showcasing the games whose soundtracks were being played at the time. The videos were all expertly cut together and paired perfectly to the music that was being played; it was hard to decide where I should focus and my eyes were constantly darting between the stage and the choreographed videos. While the majority of the paired-videos were essentially the equivalent of video game music videos, there were some wonderful exceptions. ‘Cutman’ from Megaman was something completely different, and the video screens showed an entire playthrough of someone taking on the Cutman level of the original NES game and performing far better than I could ever hope to.
If that wasn’t enough Megaman for the crowd, they followed it up immediately with Spark Mandrill from X, just keeping the Megaman love going strong. While possibly not everyone’s favorite game, it was assuredly one of the favorite tracks of the evening with people cheering along to the superbly harmonized solos. The bass solo transitioned smoothly into AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ towards the end of the song and for a few moments my brain was unsure of how to comprehend the juxtaposition between the quintessential classic rock riff and the boss fight music. Eventually I just leaned back and let the awesome melodies wash over me once more.
The feeling of this show was so much more similar to the metal and rock shows that I went to during my youth than anything else, with a completely different kind of energy. It was the type of electricity that you felt when every single person in the audience was witnessing something completely new, that at the same time felt strongly nostalgic; a feeling that imbued us with sheer excitement at seeing our favorite games brought to life in such a raw way. There was a “dancing area” at the front which before long was filled with people cramming close to the front of the show like any good rock concert. Although realistically it was less of a dancing area; apart from the impromptu conga-line which sprang up during the show, it surged with the music and felt like any good metal show.
I legitimately thought that a mosh pit was going to break out at one point and someone was going to get Shoryuken’d.
This type of passion was omnipresent at the show and you could see it everywhere you looked, from people dancing in their seats to joining the fray near the stage. At one point during Capcom Live’s Monster Hunter Medley (‘Zinogre’ and ‘Proof of a Hero’) there was even a Palico whom emerged from the crowd to dance with us! Talk about another level of immersion into the music! I’d run into this felyne friend a few times over the course of my weekend, so it was awesome to see them at the final event getting down to the beats. This was the type of energy that was flowing through the entire show though, with our energy and passion almost matching that of the performers on stage.
Capcom Live paid homage to a plethora of their library, ranging across decades and genres to present a concert that fully encompassed the developer’s longstanding history in the industry. Not every game showcased was one of their well-known titles though; they gave love to hidden gems like Sengoku Basara. There were tracks — and corresponding videos — from Dragon’s Dogma, Okami, and even a finale from Resident Evil 6 which absolutely made my night. ‘At The End of a Long Escape’ was the perfect song to close the show with, and it once again showcased the phenomenal talent of each of the members of Capcom Live as we all raised lights in unison, swaying back and forward to the beautiful melody.
My experience at Capcom Live in Montreal completely shattered any of my expectations, and was a fantastically metal juxtaposition to all of the other video game concerts that I have experienced to date. While this was assuredly encouraged by my 30-year affair with rock and metal, there was something all together surreal about seeing music from some of my favorite video games performed in such a fashion, and with such raw passion.
The show transcended rock music. It transcended video games. It existed in this very unique and ultimately niche space where the best of both worlds collided and created this electric experience. As the bassist Louis said, the members of Capcom Live felt like it was their responsibility as musicians to elevate this music that we loved so dearly from our favorite games to a new plateau.
Then let me close by responding to these words that resonated so deeply with me. As fans of both the games and the music they inspire, it is our responsibility to continue to show our passion and commitment to these adventures we love so dearly. Don’t just play the games; live them! Involve yourself in the world of video games and explore new ways to share your own unique perspective with the world, much like the members of Capcom Live have!
Show up to conventions, to concerts, to community events where you can share your love and passion with those around you. Start a YouTube channel or a Twitch/Mixer stream, and bring your own vision and passion to the forefront for every other gamer to see. It’s through these types of actions and communities that we can do our own part to elevate video games through thoughtful discourse and meaningful content creation.